By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — This past week, National Merit Scholarship Corporation announced 2014 semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Among approximately 16,000 semifinalists, Norman Public Schools posted 14 semifinalists — the second highest number of semifinalists in an Oklahoma school district. Edmond school district announced 18 semifinalists; however, that school district exceeds NPS by approximately 7,000 students.
Eight of the semifinalists are seniors at Norman High School: Carolyn Hewes, Russell Hobson, Kenneth McCann, Reed Shafer-Ray, Joseph Sullivan, Nathan Thompson, Stephen Thung and Gehrig Thurston. Six of the semifinalists are seniors at Norman North: Madison Allen, William Long, Ohvia Muraleetharan, Lucas Schuermann, Zachary Schuermann and Spencer Yue.
To qualify as a National Merit semifinalist, each student had to take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying assessment as a junior. Their scores were among the highest and represent those of less than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors.
Nathan Thompson, from Norman High, said that he was excited when he found out he was a semifinalist, but that it was short lived.
“I am nervous about applying for the finalist round,” Thompson said. “I have to fill out an application and write an essay ... and then wait until the spring to learn if I’ve qualified for the last round.”
Each semifinalist will compete for one of 2,500 National Merit $2,500 Scholarships that will be awarded on a state representational basis; about 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarships awards provided by corporations and business organizations for finalists who meet specified criteria; and some 4,500 college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for finalists who attend a sponsor institution.
Thompson credits his academic training at NPS as well as his mother and experience in debate team to his success of becoming a National Merit semifinalist.
“Norman Public Schools is a good environment partially because it’s in a good town. I feel I was reasonably prepared (for the National Merit Scholarship competition),” Thompson said. “Also, my mother, Daphne Thompson, was a semifinalist, so as my academic career developed, it was just expected I would try for a scholarship.”
Zachary Schuermann, of Norman North, also attributes NPS and individual teachers to his academic success.
“I have always had the mentality to do well in school, but certain individual teachers like Mr. Warren, AP physics, and Mr. Forr, AP calculus, have challenged me,” Zachary Schuermann said.
Besides the application and essay, finalists will be selected on the basis of their skills, accomplishments and potential for success in a rigorous collegiate environment. Such accomplishments might include being a national debate team competitor like Thompson or student council vice president like Zachary Schuermann.
Other NPS semifinalists also are active in their school and community. Some examples are Lucas Schuermann designs web pages, Shafer-Ray participates in soccer and cross country, Sullivan is captain of the swim team and McCann is editor in chief of the Tiger Tribune.
About 90 percent of National Merit semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standings. Winners of the National Merit Scholarship will be announced in four nationwide releases beginning in April and concluding in July.
Until then, Thompson said he would be focusing on his busy year and filling out college applications.
“My dream schools are Stanford and Vanderbilt, where I’d like to study economics and then work in public policy,” Thompson said. “There’s always OU, too.”
Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano, NHS Principal Scott Beck and NNHS Principal Bryan Young have all expressed pride for the 14 NPS semifinalists. But moreover, the semifinalists have expressed pride for each other.
Zachary Schuermann said he is friends with several of the other semifinalists, both at Norman High and Norman North, and he is happy for his friends’ success.
“I may be competitive with my brother and friends in other areas but not with academics ... it’s really good to see my friends succeed, to see my school succeed,” he said.