Individual paths that included hours of intense studying and years of classroom preparation, along with exceptional PSAT scores, are what earned 34 students in Knox County Schools recognition as semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship. 

“I am so thankful and proud to be a semifinalist,” said West High School’s Cooper Etheridge. “This is going to provide a huge opportunity for my future.”

An impressive feat for the high school seniors, as less than 1% of the nation’s graduating seniors will qualify. The accolade is based on PSAT test scores, so missing or not finishing the test isn’t an option for anyone hoping to earn the recognition – something that was very nearly a reality for one of the finalists.

“I actually got kicked out of the PSAT,” said Bearden High School’s Maya Hira. “I started the wrong section and told on myself, so they canceled my score!”

True determination meant she was eventually able to qualify with her SAT score – which she took while her family was on vacation. “It was so exciting to find out I made the list!”

Others were able to find a balance between academics and the social aspect of the high school experience.

“I fell into a routine to look over those tests and study resources on Fridays before going to football games,” said Farragut High School’s Michelle Lin. “I went to every single one! Then the next day I would do a practice test.” She credits her success to “really good consistency and mentorship throughout the years.”

Despite being vastly different in their interests, study habits, and plans, they all hope to attend some of the most prestigious colleges in the country. 

Their list of dream schools included Princeton, Purdue, MIT, Oklahoma, Stanford, and Caltech–and they hope this award will help them get one step closer to a Freshman Orientation on these college campuses.

Those campuses would be lucky to have them; beyond their academic focus and gifts, they contribute to their schools through school clubs, sports, and volunteer opportunities.

“I really like tutoring people. I like helping people. Since I’m good at math, I like to use that skill to help other people,” said L&N STEM Academy’s Jared Mueller. “I think one of the most important qualities for people to have is compassion.”

These students are really something!

The full list of KCS National Merit Semifinalists is below.

Bearden High School
Maya Hira
Alanie Keith
Avigail Laing
Nicholas McIntyre
Harper Smith

Farragut High School
Karrie An
Iris Chen
Elaina Conger
Grace Feng
Audrey Fey
Madeline Gao
Caleb Han
Jesse Hao
George Hu
Danial Khan
Michelle Lin
Elliot Mandl
Vivaan Singhvi
Reuben Soans
Channing Tan
Thomas Williamson
Nicholas Yan
Iris Ye
Hardin Valley Academy
David Hart

L&N STEM Academy
Jared Mueller
Hazel White
Cooper Wirth

West High School
Bryden Asti
Lucia Benedetto McNulty
Charles Burke
Hunter Dance
Cooper Etheridge
Duncan Gilpatric
Cooper Ward

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