CHARLESTOWN — A young Charlestown resident who is an artist and member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe has been named a candidate for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
Sherenté M. Harris, 17, is eligible to be selected as one of 161 students nationwide to be invited to Washington, D.C., in June to receive the Presidential Scholars Medallion at a ceremony and to participate in other events and activities.
“It’s a really overwhelming feeling of excitement,” Harris said. “I’m finally seeing the work I’ve been doing coming to fruition.”
Harris is a senior at the Paul W. Crowley Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Newport.
The Commission on Presidential Scholars will select the finalists, and the U.S. Department of Education will announce the 161 scholars in May. Of these, up to 20 will be selected as scholars in Career and Technical Education, Harris’ category.
Met School Principal Bradford Martin nominated Harris for the honor.
Harris is applying to colleges, and is a Community College of Rhode Island Running Start scholar, a dual-enrollment program for high school seniors. Harris has taken classes at CCRI and Salve Regina University since freshman year, and is one semester away from earning an associate’s degree.
“At the core of what I want to do in life is telling our stories,” said Harris, who counts two-time Boston Marathon winner and Narragansett Indian Ellison “Tarzan” Brown as an uncle. Sherenté’s parents are Thawn and Eleanor Harris.
Harris visited the White House in 2015 and met first lady Michelle Obama during the first National Tribal Youth Conference.
Harris also has forged a path for LGBT, or Two Spirit, equality within the indigenous community, and was honored as head dancer at Dartmouth College’s 45th annual Powwow last year, performing the Fancy Shawl dance. The dance, Sherenté said, originated during the women’s liberation movement as “an outward rebellion against traditions that inhibited people from giving prayer and thanksgiving through dance in a way that spoke to them.”
Harris has worked to expand knowledge and understanding of the tribe’s language and culture.
Sherenté is an intern educator at the Tomaquag Museum and the Narragansett Language Preservation and Revitalization Program, and was an intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Kettle Pond Visitor Center.
“Allowing my stories to manifest through writing, speaking, performance and visual art, I can expand the audience of my message, educating and creating change within my communities,” she said.
The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established by executive order in 1964 to recognize graduating seniors in areas such as academic success, leadership, and service to school and community. It was expanded in 1979 to recognize student achievement in the arts, and again in 2015 for students in career and technical fields.