It's been a while since Murray High School saw one of its students claim a title of Merit Scholar in the National Merit Scholarship Program, but this year the school has two semifinalists who might stand a good chance to grab those prestigious awards.
Abigail Adams and Sara Ng represent the pool of semifinalists that represented less than 1 percent of graduating seniors in the nation.
"I'm excited about it," Adams said. "I think it would be a great opportunity."
Students qualify to become semifinalists by taking the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) during their junior year and scoring in the highest percentile in the state they're from. According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, about 1.5 million students applied last year and about 16,000 advanced.
From this group, finalists will be chosen in February, and then the scholarship recipients will be announced in the spring.
"It's not easy to get in where they're at," said Gordon Kener, counselor at Murray High. "It's good there's something like this to reward students who work this hard."
Kener said he feels optimistic about Adams' and Ng's chances of moving forward to being finalists and contending for the prestigious Merit Scholar rank.
"What stands out with these two girls is their interest in math and how many extracurricular things they're involved with," he said. "I don't know how they have time to fit it all in."
The last time a Murray High student was named a Merit Scholar was in the 1980s.
"It's been a while," Kener said. "I'm more confident this year."
The next step is to take the SAT and score high once again. The big day for the exam for Adams and Ng was Nov. 3. Ng took the test once before and scored 2260 on the 2400 scale.
"Personally, I thought the vocabulary was the most challenging," she said.
Adams said she's preparing herself by taking several practice tests.
Should they go on to be finalists, they will compete for scholarships in one of three categories. The first is the National Merit $2,500 Scholarships awarded on a state representational basis. The other two are corporate-sponsored and college-sponsored scholarships.
Adams said the money would help to finance school but could also open doors for other academic pursuits.
"Winning this would make you more eligible for things," she said. "It's a nice return on your academic dedication."
As someone who isn't in athletics or art, she said she appreciates that the National Merit Scholarship Program has more of a scholastic focus.
"Reading and writing is what I enjoy more," Adams said.
She has a passion for the performing arts, though. In fact, she and Ng are members of the Murray High Madrigals.
"Music is special," Ng said. "I was 11 years old when I was able to join the choir that I'm in right now."
That would be the International Children's Choir (ICC). Performing with the ICC also allowed Ng to meet with foreign ambassadors and representatives, which is fitting with her career ambition.
"My ultimate goal would be to work for the National Security Agency and have more of a world view," Ng said.
Ng described herself as a "math person," although she enjoys a range of subjects. She's looking into the field of applied mathematics at the University of Utah, but her top schooling destination is the University of Chicago.
"It's prestigious, and they've got a superb mathematics department," Ng said. "It's a congenial place to learn."
Adams, who is also a math buff, wants to combine her academic interests with her zeal for cooking by pursuing food science at Brigham Young University.
"I love cooking and food nutrition and all that, but I want to go into something with more science," she said.
Adams and Ng take active parts in community service. Adams is involved in a youth city council and the Murray Youth Chamber of Commerce. Ng is a member of the Key Club and a Junior Rotary group. They also happen to be good friends, having met in a drama camp after the sixth grade.
Murray High counselor Amy Knox said she's extremely pleased with the girls' work ethics.
"My jaw just drops for how well-versed they are for such a young age," she said. "I'm just amazed at the hard work and dedication they put into this."
Knox also noted the two students' willingness and determination to go above and beyond, such as doing online courses in addition to classroom curriculums.
"I think that's always really a great thing that you want to do more in school," Knox said. "They're so incredibly bright."
1.5 million initial applicants
16,000 semifinalists (representing less than 1 percent of graduating seniors nationwide)
Scholarship recipients will be announced in spring of next year