National Merit commended students and semifinalists surpass previous record


During Homecoming Week in late September, senior Fadwa Kamari was randomly called down to the main office. For most students, this is an unusual circumstance; Fadwa was justifiably stumped as to why she overheard her name blared out through the loudspeakers.

“At first, I thought it was just something naviance-related with my counselor,” Fadwa remembers thinking.

However, Fadwa was asked to sit around a table with seven of her peers. It was requested of the students to patiently wait for a few minutes preceding what they were in the office for.

“We started guessing why we were there while we were waiting,” Fadwa said. “A couple people guessed that we were semifinalists, but, it was more of a joke.”  

Consequently, Fadwa—and her seven peers—came to discover that they did qualify as semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Competition.   

“I definitely didn’t believe it until I had the letter sitting in front of me,” Fadwa said.

Fadwa and her peers also discovered that they, along with nineteen other peers, had beaten an FHC record. Counselors, such as Sarah Van’t Hof, are amazed by this accomplishment.

“I know this is a strong class—academically—the class of 2019,” said Van’t Hof. “It’s [the number of commended students] the biggest number I’ve ever seen.”

This year, nineteen seniors were identified as commended students, and eight seniors were identified as semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Competition.

According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation Website, 34,000 out of the 50,000 high scorers on the PSAT receive Letters of Commendation that recognize their outstanding academic performance; however, the letter also informs its recipients that they have been discharged from the National Merit Scholarship Competition.

“Even though a commended student’s journey ends there,” Van’t Hof said, “they have bragging rights, and they can certainly share that with colleges.”

Likewise, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation Website also states that 16,000 of the 50,000 high scorers on the PSAT are notified, through their school, that they have qualified as semifinalists. The semifinalists are the highest-scoring entrants in each state and can advance as a finalist by continuing to meet high academic standards.

“We’ve never had almost thirty students who have been identified across the board,” Van’t Hof said. “I’ve never seen that. It was really cool to see.”

Finally, in February of 2019, semifinalists will be notified, via mail sent to their home addresses, whether or not they have advanced to the finals. High school principals will be notified as well and given a certificate to present to their school’s finalist(s).

“They [finalists] should for sure have a scholarship attached to it,” Van’t Hof said. “It’s all different—how much money [recipients receive]—so that’s the unknown. But, it’s usually something significant.”  

Principal Steve Passinault also shares in Van’t Hof’s disbelief regarding the immense amount of seniors who achieved such a prestigious academic accomplishment this year.

“In my eight years here,” Passinault said, “the most we’ve ever had has been between twelve and fifteen students. So, it almost doubled.”

Passinault believes that a multitude of factors have contributed to the students’ success: natural intelligence, hard work, ability to challenge themselves by enrolling in advanced classes, teachers that helped them reach their full potential, and parents’ implementation of the value of education on their lives.

“I am obviously very proud of the students and of the work they’ve put in,” Passinault said. “It’s a great thing for our school.”

Van’t Hof also believes that the STEM Program at FHN has contributed to the commended students’ and semifinalists’ success on the PSAT.

“This is the first graduating class from our STEM Program at Northern High School,” Van’t Hof said. “A number of students who participate in the STEM Program were identified as National Merit contenders on one level or another.”

Passinault also hopes that this year’s tall number of recognized students is the start of an exponential increase in the amount of recognized students in future graduating classes.  

“Every class has its strengths and challenges,” Passinault said. “The bar moves every year in terms of where the level that they have to score is. There might be years where it is a little tougher to achieve that rank than it is other years.”

For students such as Fadwa Kamari, achieving her current rank was something she believed was far-stretched for herself.

“I was really surprised but also really excited,” Fadwa said. “It [being a semifinalist] wasn’t one of my goals, because I had thought about being a semifinalist last year—and obviously wanted to be one—but definitely didn’t think I would be able to qualify. The whole thing was just really surprising.”