Five southwest Valley high school students earned the distinction of being named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, representing less than 1% of students nationwide selected by the program.
Three of the semifinalists, James Ballard, Patrick Bednarz, and Raymond Gue, are from Basis Goodyear, and the other two, Brain Liu and Davis Rubel, are from the Agua Fria Union High School District.
Davis Rubel, a senior at Millennium High School, has an unweighted GPA of 5.56, is a three-sport athlete and president of his school’s National Honor Society chapter. He said it’s his goal to study aerospace engineering and play football at MIT and was excited to learn he had advanced to the semifinals.
“It's been a goal of mine to be a National Merit Scholar for a long time,” Rubel said. “Both my dad and my uncle were finalists, so I've heard a lot about the award and its importance.”
A total of 16,000 high school seniors made it to the semifinals this year, and 218 were from Arizona.
The program is highly selective and based on high schoolers’ academic record, recommendations, extracurriculars and their score on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
But the work isn’t over yet. To advance to the finals, National Merit semifinalists must submit college applications, be endorsed by a high school faculty member, score highly enough on the SAT or ACT test and continue to maintain an excellent academic record.
“Excited and grateful”
Raymond Gue was worried when his counselor asked him to stay after school. But worry turned to excitement when he received the news that he’d made it to the semifinals.
“I was very excited and grateful to learn that I had become a semifinalist,” 16-year-old Gue said over email. He thanked his family and especially his brother for helping him get to where he is.
This isn’t Gue’s first prestigious academic achievement. Last year he was named a National AP Scholar after receiving perfect scores on all five AP exams he took in May 2020, the West Valley View reported. He was also part of an epidemiology research team, that recently published a report for the CDC.
He’s also part of the city of Goodyear Youth Commission, the fencing club, the National Honors Society and the Student Leadership Society. Outside of school, he’s an avid pickleball player and hopes to join a local team soon.
Fellow Basis senior Patrick Bednarz said that for him, becoming a National Merit Scholarship finalist has been his goal for most of high school. Early on, he was checking how high he needed to score on the PSAT in order to qualify.
Bednarz said that when he saw his score, he knew he was in the running. “It was kind of long awaited,” he said. “Once I got my score I knew I had a good chance...so I guess it was just like, good confirmation.”
Seventeen-year-old Bednarz, who has a weighted 4.0 GPA, is applying to a bunch of universities, but his top pick is Vanderbilt. He plans to study medicine and his goal is to open up his own private practice one day.
He seems to be right on track: he’s the president of his school’s Pre-Med Club and he belongs to the American Red Cross’ International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Youth Action Campaign.
Outside of classes and extracurricular activities, Bednarz spends his time on the swim and dive team at the Goodyear YMCA.
The majority of National Merit semifinalists are expected to continue to the finals, but only about 7,500 students nationwide will be awarded scholarships.
Brain Liu, a senior at Verrado High School in Buckeye, is hopeful that he will make it to the finals and earn one of 7,500 available scholarships collectively worth about $30 million.
"I'm very thankful to receive this recognition of my hard work and I hope to be able to go on and win a scholarship,” Liu said over email.
Students like Liu will find out in early to mid-February 2022 if they have been selected as finalists and will be notified mid-May if they have won a National Merit scholarship.
Madeline Ackley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or found on Twitter @Mkayackley.
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