Looking at Brian Xu's list of achievements, one might ask where he gets the energy for all of it.
Xu, a senior at SHS, plays tennis and basketball, is the president of the Jackets in Motion Service Club, maintains a 4.0 GPA while taking several of SHS's toughest classes, and this list only scratches the surface of his involvement. Xu said when he was a small child growing up in New York City, N.Y., the question was not where he got the energy, but where his his parents could put it all.
"It was a bad combination, New York City and a child running around, getting lost," Xu said. "When I was little, my mom used to sit me down and ask me to do puzzles. I guess that's how I developed an appreciation for problem solving."
Now, Xu is a semifinalist for the 2012 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, one of four in Mississippi and 550 in the entire country.
If Xu is among the 121 academic scholars or 20 arts scholars named finalists, he will attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in June, where he will meet President Barack Obama and receive a medal in a White House ceremony. The program's official website says it is not a scholarship program, but it does allow winners to meet national and international luminaries in science, literature, education, politics and arts. Xu has a 35 on the ACT and a 2140 on the SAT, but Tom Burnham, Mississippi's superintendent, said in a press release that it takes more than brainpower to become a Presidential Scholar.
“What makes these students so special is they earned this honor not by just making good grades, but by their great leadership and work outside the classroom,” Burnham said. “They are making a positive difference in their schools and communities.”
Brian Xu brings more than brains to SHS, school counselor Juawice McCormick said. This is not the first time an SHS student has become a semifinalist for the Presidential Scholars Program, she said, but Xu is one of the most well-rounded students she has ever seen.
"He's well-liked by everyone, teachers and students," McCormick said. "He's also on the state championship baskeball team, he's a talented pianist, he plays tennis ... that he has the time and the energy to do all of this (amazes me.) He consistenly gives a very positive impression, and he certainly represents SHS as one of our finest. I'm certain in the not-too-distant future his picture is going to be hung in our hall of fame."
Xu said his competitive nature plays a big role in his success on the court and in the classroom. The Yellowjacket programs expect nothing less than success, he said, and he has learned to expect the same from himself.
"Being in sports here has kind of given me the determination to succeed in other areas in my life," Xu said. "I think every sport at SHS competes on the state level with all the other schools in Mississippi."
Xu said he also owes much to his parents, who not only punctuated his young life with brain teasers, but also maintained a natural understanding of the fine line between discipline and domineering. He said he may not always agree with his parents, but their relationship has always been one of mutual respect and love.
"One thing I'm really grateful for about my parents is that they always know how to encourage me," Xu said, "and they know how to motivate me to be the best I can be, but they do not push me, and they let me make my own decisions."
McCormick said she agreed Xu's success starts at home.
"He's got wonderful parents," McCormick said. "They are so supportive. They have just done an outstanding job of being great parents for him."
Xu said his favorite subjects are math and history. He traces his love for math back to his puzzle-solving days and his love for history to his family's Chinese background, but his favorite aspect of school is the people at SHS.
Xu said it was a culture shock when he was young to move from New York City to Tennessee and then to Starkville, but now he is at home with the cultural mixture at SHS, and its students are at home with him.
"My basketball team, I love those guys," Xu said. "They call me Jeremy Lin all the time. I've heard every single joke known, but the good thing is I can joke them back. It's just a fun time."
Xu said he expects another culture shock as he plans to move west, to Stanford University in California. He said he initially planned to study business, but since Stanford does not have an undergraduate business school, he is not certain what he plans to do.
"I'm just going to go to college and see what opportunities spring up," Xu said. "A lot of people have a lot of things planned out with their life, but I’m not really that kind of person. I prepare myself… but I don’t make any definite plans. I’m not sure what my future holds right now."
Whatever the future holds for Xu, McCormick said, she will be glad to see him succeed but sad to see him go.
"He's just one of those kids that gets along with everyone," McCormick said. "He's also incredibly giving. Everybody loves Brian."