Punahou’s Cosette Wu ’21 is among the 161 high school seniors selected as 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars, one of the nation’s most prestigious distinctions for students. Each year, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.
Wu has excelled academically, as a tennis player, a musician and as both a School and community leader. Along with being a National Merit Scholar who achieved a perfect PSAT score, she is editor-in-chief of The Oahuan and was the Varsity Girls Tennis captain and top girls singles player at Punahou. As a pianist, she was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall and has won numerous awards. She also played the viola as part of the Punahou Symphony Orchestra.
Wu is headed to Harvard, with an interest in medicine and government. Her hope is to build a career as a physician scientist helping people with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that her grandfather had suffered from. After he passed away when she was a sophomore, Wu founded a nonprofit organization, the Scleroderma and Fibrotic Diseases Foundation, which has since flourished as an international resource for those with the disease, with 58 volunteer members. The foundation website thesfdf.org is rich with patient stories, information and other resources.
“Our primary focus is on fostering patient-to-patient connections, because with my grandpa, at the end, he chose to give up treatment because he just felt like he didn’t have a chance for improvement,” Wu said. “He felt really isolated, and I think that contributed to why he chose to refuse further treatment. That’s just something I’m really interested in changing. My grandpa was always someone who was encouraging me to go for things and not to give up.”
Along with the foundation, Wu published a 16,000-word biography of her great-grandfather, a Taiwanese activist, to raise awareness about past oppression and which advocated for transitional justice. She also is the co-founder of The Echo Project, an anti-racism initiative to foster understanding around issues involving Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
As far as other honors, Wu was one of 150 students selected as a Coca-Cola Scholar, a national program that recognizes students for their leadership, service and actions that positively impact others. She also was named as Hawai‘i’s representative in the national Distinguished Young Women program.
As part of the Presidential Scholars Class of 2021, she will attend a virtual ceremony this summer. In her application, Wu named her former tennis coach Betsy Somerville ’86 Purpura as her most influential teacher. “She was my freshman year tennis coach before she moved, and she really helped me develop as a player. She’s also the most positive person I’ve ever met. She would run me all across the court, and I would have a really hard time getting the ball, but she’d be smiling with so much energy. That’s something I’ve tried to apply in other aspects of my life, because I know having a positive attitude gets you through things.”