Class of 2016: Cumberland graduate pursues passions, nets national honor

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CUMBERLAND — Among the milestones Matt Pisini will experience next month, including high school graduation, will be shaking hands with President Obama.

The 18-year-old Cumberland resident, who will graduate with the Class of 2016 at Greely High School on Sunday, June 5, two weeks later will be in Washington, D.C., to be honored as one of 160 U.S. Presidential Scholars. He and Bangor student Paige Brown were the only Mainers to receive the distinction this year.

Eligibility is based in part on standardized test performance and recommendations, Pisini said in an interview May 26. The thousands of students asked to apply go through a lengthy process, which includes writing an essay – right on the heels of college applications.

One of those essays focused on a picture, and what it means to the applicant. Pisini chose a photo from Shanghai, China, that features people wearing oxygen masks in a cloud of dense smog. That bleak image particularly struck a chord with Pisini, who wants to go into the field of renewable energy.

“I’m really passionate about that, so I wrote my whole essay about how I envision changing that aspect of the world,” he said.

Pisini this August will enroll at the University of Southern California.

“I’m a really outdoorsy kind of guy; I love the weather, I love working out, I love playing all different kinds of sports,” he said.

An avid football and baseball player, as well as a skier and member of the math team, Pisini also praised USC’s engineering and arts programs. Since he wants to delve in renewable energy, he said, “I was thinking, electrical engineering is a pretty good field to go in, because no matter what type of renewable energy, at one point it has to be turned into electrical energy.”

Pisini channeled his many interests and inspirations into his Presidential Scholar essays – including an analysis of poetry he had written about his community, and being the youngest of five siblings. He also wrote about a teacher he’d recommend – Pisini chose Doug Pride, with whom he’s studied math for three years, and who, thanks to that essay, has been named a Distinguished Teacher in this year’s Presidential Scholars program.

“It took like a day or two to set in,” Pisini said of getting the news he’d been named a Scholar. “… It’s surreal at first, but it’s super exciting.”

It’s one of many accolades Pisini’s gathered and programs with which he’s been involved in the past four years at Greely.

Along with being in the top 10 percent of his class, serving as a class officer, and co-founding the school’s Science and Technology Club, he was a Donald L. Murdock Foundation Scholarship recipient, was one of eight students to represent Greely at a student-athlete leadership summit, and studied topology, cryptology and combinatorics at the Hillsdale College Summer Mathematics Camp in Michigan.

But that long – and incomplete – list of accomplishments are incidental along the path of pursuing what you love, Pisini said. If he was able to give advice to the Matt Pisini who walked into Greely as a freshman in 2012, “I would just say to find what you’re passionate about, and just stick with it.

“I think a lot of times, people get caught up in material things, and sometimes people go for these awards, or they want to be known for these things,” he continued, “but I think it’s more important to put your nose to the grindstone and find what you’re passionate about.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Matt Pisini, a senior at Greely High School in Cumberland, is one of only two students in Maine to be named a 2016 U.S. Presidential Scholar.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.