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Lincoln high school senior named among 2024 U.S. Presidential Scholars

Folsom teen named among 2024 U.S. Presidential Scholars
Folsom teen named among 2024 U.S. Presidential Scholars 02:43

LINCOLN — Penelope Oliver underwent a rigorous application process along with 5,700 other students who qualified for Presidential Scholar status.

She never dreamed her name would be on a letter sent from top education officials on behalf of the Biden Administration.

"I still can't believe it, still can't believe Presidential Scholar is something I can describe myself with," Oliver said. "To me, it means more than the award. To me, it means everything I've done and worked for has paid off."

Oliver, who lives in Folsom and attends Horizon Charter School in Lincoln, said her journey to gaining the recognition wasn't typical. While most are honored for their SAT/ACT or skills inside the classroom, Oliver said her focus was on how she could help and uplift her community. She does that through her nonprofit All Access Arts, which works to get art education into shelters and other community-based organizations.

"We provide STEM and arts education to five partner organizations weekly," Oliver said. "There's a real relationship you form with the kids, the representation, and being role models and also seeing them grow and find themselves."

Oliver added that her efforts to shape policy on educational equity in the legislature and the work being done through All Access Arts is what she's most proud of. It's those efforts that helped secure the presidential honor.

"I never expected to get this award, I think about a lot the dream gap, how as we get older reality dawns on us and we start thinking about things we can't do instead of what we can do," she said. "Makes me want to fight harder, to advocate harder, to write more policies on educational equity so that everyone can achieve their goals."

She is one of just nine California students to receive the prestigious honor. It's a feat she said will only fuel the fire in her to keep reaching for success and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

"Make sure that we're telling young people, encouraging young people and of all different ages to do what they love," Oliver said.

Her parents said the secret key to raising successful children is to foster their curiosity and never deter them from exploring subjects and things they love. Her mother, Kristine Mooreland, said it came down to ensuring Oliver was exposed to all different people and scenarios.

"We were actively looking for opportunities, and that creates empathy and compassion. School is almost second to being a good person," Mooreland said.

Her father described his elation at learning she had won a spot on the 2024 list, saying that since she was a young child, he knew she would achieve greatness.

"She has this tenacity to get stuff done, and interest that spans many things, and willingness to work with others and willingness to make things happen," said Penelope's father, Tony Oliver.

In a sweet twist of fate, Tony Oliver said Presidential Scholar success actually runs in Penelope's blood. Decades ago, his mother, a Cuban immigrant, was also named a Presidential Scholar.

"All I know is it definitely skipped a generation," he said.

As for what's next for Penelope, she will attend UC Berkeley in the fall and has no plans to stop advocating for educational equity.

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