For the first time in at least 15 years, Kelso High School has a semifinalist for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, one of the nation’s highest academic honors.

Robin Hardwick, 16, of Kelso is one of 13 students in Washington state in the running for the award. A federal selection committee names two seniors from each state as Presidential Scholars each year. In January, Hardwick’s application was forwarded to that selection committee as a Presidential Scholar candidate. He is the first student from Kelso to advance to that level since the U.S. Department of Education started keeping its digital record of candidates in 2003.

“We are so happy for Robin. Being a semifinalist for the Presidential Scholar Award is an absolutely incredible accomplishment,” said Kelso Superintendent Mary Beth Tack. “Robin is an exemplary student and, more importantly, an exemplary human being. We’re so proud to have him represent Kelso with this honor.”

The selection committee considers academic achievement, personal character, leadership and service activities and an essay submitted by the student.

Robin has a 4.0 GPA at Kelso High School. Although he grew up with the class of 2020, he’s completed enough high school classes to graduate this year.

In addition to academics, Robin is heavily involved in high school music programs and volunteers as a tutor at school.

He also started the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance after coming out as transgender. Robin told The Daily News Wednesday that becoming a semifinalist is “a complete and utter dream” that makes the “sleepless nights and countless hours devoted to academics and extracurriculars ... matter more than I ever thought it could.”

“Ever since I was a child, I wanted to help people, to inspire them that no matter who you are born as or how you grow to be different, you can achieve anything,” Robin said. “That was the message my family always told me: ‘Can’t’ should never be in your vocabulary. And so I have decided to refuse to entertain the thought of ‘can’t’, allowing me to become who I am today — a semifinalist for a national award.”

Presidential Scholar winners earn an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where they receive an award medallion at a White House ceremony.

Hardwick said he plans to study political science in college. In an interview in January, Robin said he’d like to work in the White House one day, and becoming an Presidential Scholar would be a good chance to tour his future workplace.

On Wednesday he added, “This nomination allows me to represent this community and all of my own little communities in an absolutely incredible way. I am so excited to be the face of Kelso for such a high honor, as well as to represent my teachers who have all helped me to where I am today.”

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