More than 1.5 million students entered the National Merit Scholarship program last fall.
This week, four members of Harpeth Hall's Class of 2021 — Angie Baird, Neva Bass, Clara Murff and Spencer Robbins — earned the distinct honor of being named semifinalists in the 66th annual National Merit recognition program.
The Harpeth Hall seniors are among 16,000 semifinalists from across the country.
"The learning that led to this honor is the fruit of the same ambition, creativity, curiosity, and appreciation for learning that I will someday use in a career," said Neva Bass, whose future aspirations include ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) investing, social entrepreneurship, technology management, or technology-centric private equity.
The road to National Merit semifinalist recognition begins during a student's junior year when she takes the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The exam measures a student's critical reading ability, mathematical problem-solving skills and writing ability.
The highest-scoring program entrants in each state are selected as National Merit semifinalists. Harpeth Hall's honorees are in the top 1% of high school seniors across the country.
In addition to the National Merit Semifinalists, Harpeth Hall also celebrates eight Commended students in the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program: Janet Briggs, Devon Campbell, Sarah Cook, Belle Huang. Lily Majors, Sinclair Walker. Gretchen Walsh and Nora Wang.
Zoe Miles, also Class of 2021, was named a College Board National Recognition Program Scholar. Students who score in the top 2.5% of the PSAT test takers and who identify as African American, Hispanic American or Latinx, or Indigenous, may earn the recognition.
Where learning is a 'delightful experience'
This year's honorees exemplify a tradition of academic excellence at Harpeth Hall. The students said they appreciate the "unconventional" and inventive learning that happens in their classes where teachers encourage outside-the-box thinking and where enthusiasm is contagious.
"One thing I love about Harpeth Hall is the faculty," Spencer Robbins said. "They bring infectious energy into the classroom everyday, and it makes learning a delightful experience."
As Harpeth Hall's National Merit scholars focus on their senior year, they are also thinking about their futures. More than 7,600 National Merit scholarships worth more than $30 million will be awarded next spring.
To advance as a National Merit finalist and be considered for a Merit Scholarship award, semifinalists must have an outstanding academic record and receive recommendation letters from their school. They must also submit a scholarship application that highlights participation in school and community activities and demonstrated leadership abilities. The qualifications fit in line with all they have learned at Harpeth Hall, where students think critically, lead confidently and live honorably.
"At Harpeth Hall, intelligence is not stigmatized, it is encouraged," Neva Bass said.
As they carry that confidence with them to college, Harpeth Hall's National Merit semifinalists will also leave with a greater understanding of the world outside the classroom.
Clara Murff plans to major in neuroscience and minor in Spanish. She hopes to become an ophthalmologist and work with Doctors Without Borders, focusing specifically on cataract surgery in Latin and South America.
"There is a lot to love about academia at Harpeth Hall," she said. But, she added, it's more than that. "I particularly love our community."