You could say that Mengran "Meran" Liu has mastered the art of multi-tasking.
Any given Friday during Hoffman Estates High School's football season, for instance, went something like this: Go to class, head to the pool for varsity swim practice, join the flag team to learn that night's routine and then rehearse with the marching band.
Mengran (Meran) LiuAge: 18
Hometown: Hoffman Estates
School: Hoffman Estates High School
Who inspires you? My family -- my parents for how hard they've worked to get us to where we are now, and my sister for always being a kind, caring and dedicated person who can make friends wherever she goes.
What's on your iPod? I love Disney songs! I've also got some mainstream music like Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5, and I have a ton of songs by rising YouTube sensation Sam Tsui, who graduated from the school I'll be going to next year!
What book are you reading? I'm currently rereading "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown. I also plan to finally read the "Hunger Games" trilogy this summer.
The three words that best describe you? Versatile, diligent, compassionate
And that's all before kickoff.
The 18-year-old would then perform two roles in a single halftime show, shuffling between marching with her trumpet during one song to dancing with a flag during the next.
"It got pretty hectic, but it was totally worth it," Meran said. "I've been using an assignment notebook since probably the third grade, which helps. But I really enjoy everything I do and want to make an effort."
A schedule like that could cause most to spread themselves too thin, but Meran, who graduates tonight en route to Yale University in the fall, manages to excel at pretty much everything on her plate.
One of the budding doctor's most recent accomplishments is an accolade that only 140 other high school students across the nation can claim. Earlier this month, Meran was one of two students from Illinois named to the 48th class of Presidential Scholars, a program that recognizes high school seniors for achievement in academics or the arts.
She'll spend June 16-19 in Washington, D.C., where each honoree will receive a Presidential Scholar medallion, explore the capital, volunteer with local kids and attend a scholars workshop. Accompanying her will be Steve Loh, the Hoffman Estates High teacher she considers to be most influential in her life.
The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by President Barack Obama, selects scholars based on their academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations, community service, leadership and commitment to high ideals.
"I thought it was a great opportunity, but I never expected anything to come of applying given all the amazingly talented people across the country," Meran said. "I can't believe I'm ranked among them."
More than 3,300 candidates qualified based on their SAT and ACT exam scores, and Meran had no problem there. She scored a perfect 36 on the ACT -- twice.
Meran's also a straight-A student who ranks second in her class of 515 students. She dropped out of the top spot only due to her decision to stick with band, considered an "unweighted" class as opposed to honors courses that carry a higher potential GPA.
Meran, who's president of the school band, has never regretted sticking with music. She grew up playing the piano and last year completed the 12th and final level of the Illinois State Teachers Music Association's Achievement in Music Exam.
As a fifth-grader, she added the trumpet to her repertoire. Meran also picked up the marimba and constructed one of her own to keep at home. She's won gold medals at Sonata-Sonatina Festivals.
As if that weren't enough, Meran was a state-qualifying varsity badminton player, Science Bowl captain, Scholastic Bowl captain, Science Olympiad state gold medalist and student advisory trustee in the Schaumburg Township Library District.
What makes Meran especially remarkable, however, is her motivation behind getting involved groups she never expected to join, such as flags and the school newspaper (she's the managing editor of that, too).
"At Mead (Junior High School in Elk Grove Village), I was the stereotypical bookworm focused only on academics," Meran recalls. "I was comfortable, but I wanted to meet people outside of the circles I normally traveled in and break out of those cliques."
Science teacher Suzanne Fetherling called Meran a "true da Vinci woman" whose attitude and personality sets her apart. She effectively mentors peers without intimidating them with her intelligence.
"Any group (Meran) is a part of works conscientiously because of the leadership and skill she brings to the group," Fetherling said.
Meran's father, Ming Hui Liu, said he admires his youngest daughter for the variety she incorporates into her life.
"I'm more proud that she's well-balanced and not just a good student," he said.
Having the respect of her father and mother, Bing Wang, is important to Meran, who figures she owes it to her parents to work hard after they sacrificed a life in Asia in search of opportunities here. Meran, whose family is Chinese, lived in Japan until moving to Canada at age 4. Along with older sister Susan, now 21, they came to the Chicago area shortly after.
To stay connected to her heritage and give back in her own way, Meran has spent the past three years teaching English to Chinese seniors.
"I wanted to help them get used to this strange, new culture," she said. "I teach them ABCs and words and phrases, but they've taught me so much more than that."
Meran also regularly volunteers at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, an environment that convinced her she was destined for a career in medicine. She's drawn to ophthalmology, having dealt with wearing glasses and contacts since a young age.
"I want a challenge in life, but I also want to get to meet a lot of different people," Meran said. "I'm excited to help other people through what I can learn and cram into my brain."
• Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. She and Elena Ferrarin always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.