September 13, 2017 10:56:59 AM
Four Starkville High School seniors were recently recognized as 2017 national merit semifinalists.
Sarah Heard, Noah Knox, Pepito Thelly and Sean Mackin were among the 16,000 students nationwide named as semifinalists based on their Preliminary SAT scores (PSAT). To become a semifinalist, students must score within the top 1 percent on their PSAT in their respective state.
All four now are eligible to compete for National Merit finalist status, which is based on the students' completed application, SAT score and letters of recommendation from previous educators and administrators. As finalists, they will compete for several scholarship opportunities, as the National Merit Scholarship Program will award almost $32 million by spring 2018.
Twelve SHS students have been recognized as National Merit semifinalists since 2012. This year's semifinalist class is the largest in that time frame.
The school's history of producing both semifinalists and finalists, school officials said, goes back decades longer than that.
"It says a lot to have four semifinalists at a school of our size and I am extremely excited to have them," Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Superintendent Eddie Peasant said. "This is not only a testament to their hard work, but also the rigorous instruction they received from their instructors. They didn't become such strong students in high school, but instead during their entire time in our district."
Throughout her time at SHS, Heard said she was heavily involved in choir, cross-country and track, and the math club Mu Alpha Theta.
Although undecided on what college she will attend, Heard said the chemical engineering program at Mississippi State University is a possibility. However, if she takes a leap of faith and continues her education out-of-state, she said she would pursue a degree in finance.
"Being named a semifinalist gives me hope that this year will be just as great as the beginning," Heard said. "It's just exciting thinking about the future."
Knox will complete his senior year as a member of the thespian club, choir and captain of the swim team.
Knox said he hopes to attend Vanderbilt University next fall. However, he said he could also see himself staying at home, to pursue a degree in math and chemical engineering from MSU.
Being the last of six siblings to graduate from SHS, Knox said that it was "the end of an era."
"There is a long line of achievement here, and knowing it can get me to a top university is great," Knox said. "I'm excited to move past high school, of course, but there are a lot of good memories here. So, it's bittersweet."
President of Mu Alpha Theta and Vice President of the National Science Honor Society, Thelly said he is applying to several colleges. But, no matter where he decides to take his next step in education, he said it will most likely be towards an engineering, math or business degree.
Knowing he is among four students at SHS in the hunt for a National Merit scholarship, Thelly said, is a reward in itself.
"Our class has always been very competitive but still very supportive of each other, also," he said. "I know we are all really thankful for this opportunity and even more thankful for Starkville High School."
Mackin, 17, is the current president of the SHS Key Club, which is a club dedicated to community service, and a member of the thespian club. Although undecided about his future, Mackin said his dream is to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).