U.S. Presidential Scholar has her hands in nearly everything

PHS senior Maggie Lauder is just one of two selected from R.I.

By Jim McGaw
Posted 5/14/24

PORTSMOUTH — Peruse Maggie Lauder’s résumé and you’ll find it filled to the brim with awards and recognitions.

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U.S. Presidential Scholar has her hands in nearly everything

PHS senior Maggie Lauder is just one of two selected from R.I.


PORTSMOUTH — Peruse Maggie Lauder’s résumé and you’ll find it filled to the brim with awards and recognitions:

• R.I. Environmental Education Association Student of the Year, 2023

• First Place Award in The Art of Conservation Fish Art Contest, R.I. Section, 2023

• Most Outstanding Delegate at University of Connecticut Model UN, 2023

• Scholastic Art and Writing honorable mention for her film, “Nature Works Like Magic,” 2023

• Member of the National Honor Society (2023 to present)

• Member of the Language National Honor Society (2023 to present)

Etc., etc. It’s simply one hosanna after another. But the honor she received last week topped them all.

The Portsmouth High School senior was one of only 161 students across the country to be named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, recognizing her accomplishments in academics, the arts, and career and technical education fields.

Maggie joined Ryan Steven Lukowicz of North Kingstown Senior High School in being the only two students from Rhode Island to be so honored.

“The 161 high school seniors selected for the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Presidential Scholars represent the best of our nation’s schools and inspire hope in the bright future of this country,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona stated. “On behalf of President Biden, I am delighted to celebrate their accomplishments, and encourage these scholars to continue to aim high, lift up others, and embrace opportunities to lead.”

According to the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program website, Portsmouth High hasn’t had a student so honored since at least 2003 (the site doesn’t go back any further than that). A Portsmouth Abbey School student, Kimberley T. Taylor, was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in 2004.

Last week we sat down with Maggie, the daughter of Bill and Phyllis Lauder, at her High Hawk Road home and chatted about her past, present and future. This interview was edited for clarity and space.

You’re not going to like this question, because I have to ask you to brag a little bit about yourself. How does one become a U.S. Presidential Scholar? “The top 20 girls and the top 20 boys in the state with the highest SAT scores are automatically nominated, and then someone in administration or the principal can nominate you; that’s how I got in. After that, they take 90 candidates from each state and then they narrow it down — I think in Rhode Island it’s like seven or eight — and then they choose from there. There are two from each state, plus some at-large choices.”

How did you react? “I was surprised. I found out two days ago (Thursday). It feels really good!”

You’re Student Council president. How long have you been doing that, and what’s involved? “I’ve been president since my sophomore year. Our main goal is fund-raising for junior and senior prom, and planning class events. We’re really gearing toward graduation and Senior Week.”

Where are you going to school next fall? “The University of South Carolina. I’ve been to the area a lot; we go to Hilton Head all the time. I really like the people and the location, and the program’s great.”

How many schools did you apply to? “I applied to 16 or 17. I didn’t really have a top school when I applied. I got into some other schools, but I kind of took them out of the equation.”

You’re really into environmental issues. Can you think of a career path at this point? “Not exactly, but I want to do something with environmental policy or environmental law. Last year I did an internship with Clean Ocean Access. I’m involved with the (PHS) Green Club. Right now they’re working on the pond in our courtyard and getting the ecosystem back where it used to be. Toward the fall of 2022, I helped start a composting program (at PHS), and then over the summer I helped at beach cleanups and then went over to summer camps and worked as an environmental educator. The camps were at the YMCA, Newport Community School. I also did an internship at the Advocacy Project over the summer. I posted blogs about the composting and my beach cleanup experiences.”

You’re on the PHS softball team, which is doing really well. Do you compete in other sports? “I do cross-country in the fall and I used to do indoor track in the winter, but I switched to swimming a couple of years ago.”

What else are you involved in? “I’m a representative on the Rhode Island Student Advisory Council. I also helped start up a club (at PHS) called Future Business Leaders of America. There are competitions you can go to, like at Johnson and Wales. I did one in agribusiness and ended up placing in it. I’m also in an investment club. They do these mock stock competitions — it’s fake money. I also did Model UN.” (Model UN simulations engage hundreds of thousands of students each year, helping them to learn more about the principles of the UN and how it functions.)

Where are you now with your exams? “I just got done with four AP exams this week, then I have a calculus exam on Monday, and then I have to take two finals. I’m taking five AP classes right now. There are eight classes altogether.”

You’re very busy obviously. What’s your typical day like? “I wake up pretty late; I have a hard time getting up. I go to school, and then after school I usually have clubs or student council, and then softball practice right after. When I get home I usually run or walk with (mom and dad), and then do homework, go to bed, or hang out with friends.”

Do you have any time just for yourself, or for hobbies? “I really like watching movies. My favorite movie is probably ‘Brooklyn.’ Not many people know about it. It’s about this girl, Eilis, who lives in Ireland and comes to New York City. (Saoirse Ronan, who plays Eilis) is my favorite actor. She’s been in ‘Ladybird.’”

What are you going to do this summer? “I’m going to be working at Second Beach, as a gate guard. I love swimming and I go to the beach a ton.”

Maggie Lauder, Portsmouth High School, U.S. Presidential Scholar

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.