FROM READERS: National Merit scholarship winners impart high school wisdom

Friday, May 24, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Two Rock Bridge High School students Stephen Turban and David Wang were recently awarded $2,500 National Merit scholarships. The students were selected based on their scores in the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Qualifying Test, academic records, leadership experience and personal essays.

We asked these standout seniors what they've learned during their four (or five) years in high school and what advice they would give to incoming students.

stephen turban

Name: Stephen Turban

Where are you going to college in the fall?

Harvard University to study politics, entrepreneurship and economics

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

If there isn't a club/organization that is exactly what you want, create your own. There is nothing that is more fun than seeing something that you have made grow into something that is larger than yourself. As freshmen, you're going to be terrified, new and potentially below average height. But go beyond that — you have four years to create something, whether it is yourself, a volunteer group, or a whittling club. I would start now.

What did you accomplish during high school that you never thought you would?

Oh man. Ok, the biggest accomplishment I think I did that I never thought I would was that a day I wanted to create with a couple of friends — Midwest Pride Day — was recognized by the governor. It was cool seeing something that really seemed like a fanciful idea become a solid reality. I, for example, did not think as a freshman that I would spend a significant part of my senior year trying to spread "pride in the Midwest."

What’s your secret to having a great senior year?

Ok, so I am actually a super-senior (I took a year off last year to go abroad as an exchange student in Taiwan) So, I can only tell you what I've tried to do to make it a "super" year. (Heh.) My suggestion: Spend time with the people you enjoy — even if they aren't the people that you know. (They are not always one in the same, and I think as seniors, where we feel we need to culminate all of the time we've spent with those people we've grown up with, we often restrict ourselves from meeting and enjoying new people)

What is the biggest misconception about smart kids? 

That they are smart first. To be honest there ARE kids who define themselves by their intelligence, their grades, etc. But, to be honest, the vasts majority of smart kids are just that — kids. And they inhabit every walk of life possible. I was at Yale recently at an admitted students weekend and, I never thought I would see this, but there were total bros sitting outside drinking beer heckling at random pre-frosh as they walked by. People are classically just people. Smart people are just people. And sometimes they are bros.

What are you most looking forward to in college?

Oh man, easy. I'm looking forward to living my life with my friends. In high school we have to partition life at home and life with friends and to be honest it all feels a bit artificial. I'm excited to break that divide (WOO! Living on campus!)

David Wang

Name: David Wang

Where are you going to college in the fall?

Amherst College with the hope of pursuing a career in medicine

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

Find your passion.  School is as fun as you make it, and with all the opportunities to get involved at Rock Bridge, there is limitless potential to make high school one of the greatest experiences of your life.  When I found RBX3 (the Rock Bridge Dance Club), I strove to become a better dancer, and I had so much fun doing it with such great friends.

What did you accomplish during high school that you never thought you would?

I made the Missouri All-State Choir.  I'm not a very confident singer, and band has always been my thing.  However, I do love to sing, and I became a lot more involved in the choral department this year by joining show choir.  This achievement was quite unexpected and very fulfilling for me.

What’s your secret to having a great senior year?

Get your college stuff done early and don't stress too much about classes.  I wrote my common application essay over the summer and revised it in the fall.  I applied to Amherst early decision and found out I would be going to college there in December.  I got to sit back and relax while all my friends had to wait in anticipation for most of second semester to find out where they'd be accepted.  When it came to classes, I tried my hardest to learn and make the most out of my education, but I knew the grades didn't matter as much anymore.  Granted, the learning should always come before the grades, but it's still nice to know that colleges won't be looking to closely at your senior grades when deciding whether or not to accept you.

What is the biggest misconception about smart kids? 

Whether or not they like to have fun, smart kids always put work ahead of fun. Smart kids are smart enough to know that everyone needs a balanced life.  Also, smart kids have as much of a desire to be lazy as anyone else.

What are you most looking forward to in college?

Joining a capella groups and taking actual dance classes.  I'm excited to use the vast resources of my college to expand upon the skills I've developed in high school.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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