Brendan O’Callaghan and Lillian Pecoraro have never met. But they share several things, including their age, love of math, and being chosen as winners of the Presidential Scholar competition.

O’Callaghan, a student at Naples High School in Italy, and Pecoraro, studying at Central London High School in England, are two of 72 students worldwide awarded in this year’s program, said to be one of the nation’s highest honors for graduating seniors. They are the only ones from Department of Defense Dependents Schools.

The program, started in 1964 under President Johnson, recognizes distinguished seniors and has honored more than 5,000 since its inception.

“I feel pretty excited. I mean, it’s a free trip to Washington,” O’Callaghan, 18, jested. “No, really, I feel quite honored.”

Presidential Scholars will travel to Washington, D.C., on June 24 for three days.

The program selects one male and one female student from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and among Americans living abroad; 15 at-large students; and up to 20 students in the arts. The selections are based on outstanding scholarship, service, leadership and creativity through a rigorous selection and review process administered by the U.S. Department of Education, according to the program’s Web site,

As though studying advanced placement calculus, literature and psychology wasn’t enough, O’Callaghan was the football team’s starting center, wrestled in the 189-pound weight class, and is the school’s No. 1 singles tennis player. He said he sleeps “whenever possible.”

Calculus is his favorite subject.

“Math just kind of makes sense to me,” he said.

The same goes for Pecoraro, also 18, who plans to major in math at Cornell University in New York.

“I like being challenged in school,” said the student athlete, who participates in cross country in the fall and track and field in the spring.

Taking four advanced-placement classes has been challenging, she said, but being separated from her parents — she has been a dorm student for the past two years — has been the hardest thing for her. Her parents are stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

“She is a terrific young lady, very intelligent, has a great work ethic … and a terrific little sense of humor,” said Kay Hilley, her calculus teacher. “She may not talk a lot, but whenever she says something, it is going to be worth listening to.”

O’Callaghan will attend the University of Notre Dame in Indiana on a Navy ROTC scholarship and plans to major in aerospace engineering. Eventually, he’d like to be a pilot.

“He’s bright, talented and mischievous,” said Naples High School principal Kay Galloway, laughing. “There’s a little spark of the devil in him.”

He’s not mean, O’Callaghan countered. “But I am a bit of a prankster.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up