Hickman has most National Merit finalists in state

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | 12:20 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — There were bagels, orange juice, coffee and fruit. There were students, parents, teachers, administrators and counselors. There were balloons and tablecloths in the school colors of purple and yellow. There were 18 framed awards, waiting to be claimed.

Before school started Wednesday morning, Hickman High School honored the seniors who were selected as finalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program with an award ceremony. All 18 of the students who were semi-finalists became finalists — making Hickman the school with the largest number of finalists in Missouri, Principal Mike Jeffers said. The runner-up was St. Louis University High School, a private school, with 17 finalists.

Hickman National Merit finalists

For a full list of the Hickman students who are National Merit finalists, go to SchoolHouseTalk, the Missourian's education blog.

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“We are very proud of your accomplishments and hard work you put in in high school and even before,” Jeffers told the students, who, in addition to their awards, were given a Hickman pen and a key chain with the Kewpie school mascot.

After counselors read the names of the finalists, school counselor Leigh Spence said innate intelligence plays a key role in the students’ success. She also said their success can be attributed to supportive families, their education from preschool on and their own talents.

“These students are all gifted in different ways,” Spence said.

But, she added, “We like to claim them as Kewpies.”

This year, Rock Bridge High School had six semi-finalists, all of whom were chosen as finalists.

All of the Hickman students rushed off to class after the ceremony. Senior Katie Van Doren is looking into Washington University in St. Louis and Wheaton College in Illinois.

“It is a good way to get a little bit of money for college and a nice recognition,” Van Doren said of the designation as National Merit finalist.

The program began in 1955. Van Doren said that as part of the process, they first had to take the PSAT, a pre-college entrance exam, as juniors. The top percentage of scores is chosen, and those students become semi-finalists. They must then submit an application with an essay and their transcripts to compete for a finalist position.

According to the National Merit Scholarship Web site, about 16,000 seniors of the 50,000 top scorers are chosen as semi-finalists. From there, 15,000 go on to become finalists. These students now qualify for the scholarship. Now, when they apply to other scholarships, this award will stand out on their applications. Jeffers called it a “gateway for opportunity” for these students.

Senior Connie Cho plans to go to Yale and dive into pre-med.

“It’s nice for recognition because it’s a national standard,” Cho said, adding she knows it will look nice on resumes and college applications.

Jeffers said 18 finalists are the most Hickman has had in at least 10 years. Last year, 12 Kewpies achieved finalist status.

Said Jeffers: “All of these students have incredible intellectual abilities.”

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