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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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Valedictorian looks forward to pursuits beyond Princeton

When Peggy Ping Hsu handed in her molecular biology senior thesis this spring, she had mixed emotions. She experienced a sense of accomplishment, but also a feeling that the project was unfinished.

While her adviser praises the thesis as "a model of creativity and scholarship," Hsu dreams about what she could have accomplished with more time. Deadlines forced her to stop experimenting and analyzing data, and to begin writing about her work. "It was an incomplete story -- there was a lot more to be done," she explained.

The same could be said for Hsu.

As valedictorian of Princeton's class of 2003, she has compiled an outstanding record, winning "practically every academic award we confer on an undergraduate," according to Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel. But there's much more to be done.

While Hsu speaks warmly of her time at Princeton, she bubbles with excitement about her future, which she hopes will include studying in Germany, completing an M.D./Ph.D. degree, seeing patients, conducting research, teaching classes and rearing a family.

"I'm motivated by this dream of doing everything I want to do," she said. "Many people think I'm too idealistic. But it's my idealism that makes me who I am."

In nominating Hsu for valedictorian, Professor Mark Rose , departmental representative in molecular biology, described her as "a modest, warm and remarkably mature presence who makes excellence appear graceful and easy."

Hsu came to Princeton in 1999 after graduating from Liberty High School in Bethlehem, Pa. She has won the President's Award for Academic Achievement, the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence, the Fresh- man First Honor Prize and, most recently, the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award for the undergraduate who has achieved the highest academic standing through the first three years at Princeton. As a junior, she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Hsu has achieved a grade point average well over 4.0, with grades of A+ in math, chemistry, physics and psychology as well as molecular biology. She already has taken graduate seminars in molecular biology and computer science. And she has completed 300-level classes in history, English, Italian and Chinese.

"There were one or two semesters where I took more science courses," she said. "While I was completely immersed in science, I felt like something was missing. This year, I took almost all humanities courses because it was my last chance to learn these books with these professors."

While she has interests in many areas, Hsu knew she wanted to be a doctor from a young age. She started out thinking she might major in chemical engineering -- her father, James Hsu, is a chemical engineering professor at Lehigh University. But she soon settled on molecular biology.

"It was just amazing that we could study how living things work and that we could really understand what was going on, whereas in the past we couldn't really," she said, noting the great progress in the field of genomics.

The full story is available in the Weekly Bulletin.

Contact: Evelyn Tu (609) 258-3601

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