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10 Rising Hearts: L&N STEM Academy student makes history as 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholar

Cristine Chen attends the L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville and was one of 161 students across the U.S. to be named a 2022 Presidential Scholar.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A high school student in Knoxville was recognized in a group of students across the U.S. who made incredible accomplishments in academics, the arts and in technical education.

Cristine Chen goes to L&N STEM Academy, and she was one of three students named in the group across the state. The other two were students in Nashville and Memphis areas.

"I feel like I'm a very ambitious person. I guess my friends would call me, like, hard-working. So I am sometimes like an overachiever. So I try to do my best and everything," she said.

The L&N senior has enough accolades to line every shelf. She's a valedictorian, a National Merit finalist, and now -- a Presidential Scholar. The U.S. Department of Education selected 161 students nationwide, and Chen was one of three from Tennessee.

"I was just checking my emails and I saw that email pop up and I was like, so ecstatic. I didn't expect to get this award in a million years. So it was awesome," she said.

Officials with Knox County School said Chen is planning to attend MIT in the fall, majoring in computer science. They also said she is L&N STEM Academy's valedictorian, with the highest GPA in the school's history — 4.804.

"Cristine not only saw those opportunities and took a chance at them, but she's grabbed and taken a hold of every opportunity and taking it to the next level," her principal, Jimm Allen, said.

She's a first-generation high school student who doesn't like to brag on herself. For her, just walking across the graduation stage is something to be proud of.

"It seems kind of commonplace here. It's not something that most people are able to accomplish, like expect to look at the larger world, you know, to be able to call yourself a high school graduate," she said. "That's like an amazing thing. And you accomplish that on your own for like 12 or 13 years, so it's amazing."

Knox County Schools said Chen was accepted in MIT, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, Stanford, Brown, Wesleyan, the UTK Honors Leadership Program and Vanderbilt with full-ride scholarships offered at several of the colleges. She was also named a National Merit Finalist, awarded The Gates Scholarship and around $1 million in other scholarships and offers at other institutions.

As she turns a new page on her life, Chen's advice or everyone chasing their dreams: "Work hard and try your best and don't get down."