Senior is Merit scholar
Tonganoxie High School senior Justin Smith has been carrying around a secret he now can make public.
He's one of a select group of high school seniors across the nation named a Merit Scholar by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
Smith, the son of Jeanne and Frank Smith, said he learned the news about a month ago but was told he could share it only with his immediate family.
"It was a little bit hard, just because of my absent-mindedness," he said. "I think I let it slip once to a friend, then I had to say, 'Oh yeah, you're not supposed to tell anyone.'"
Today, officials with the Evanston, Ill.-based National Merit Scholarship Program officially released a list of 2,500 Merit Scholars, which allows Smith to share his news.
The accomplishment, said THS counselor Kathy Walker, is no small feat.
"It's one of the highest honors for high school students," she said. "And it opens up just a number of wonderful opportunities from all of these universities that compete to try to get these students."
As a Merit Scholar, Smith will receive a $2,500 scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Program. Smith also will receive an institutional scholarship from Kansas University, where he'll study chemical engineering.
"At least for now," he said. "It's one of those things that might change, but it's a good starting point. ... It's a lot easier to start out in chemical engineering and switch to something else than it is, say, to start out in something else and switch into chemical engineering."
Smith credited all of his teachers back to grade school with helping him achieve his academic standing.
"I've had a lot of good teachers," he said. "It would be a disservice to some to try to name just a few. They've all helped me."
In all, 32 Kansans have been named Merit Scholars this year. Smith is the only representative from a Kaw Valley League school and the only Leavenworth County student to receive the honor. Three Lawrence students -- Rebecca Dirks and Baoqing Zhou from Lawrence High School and Jing Li from Free State High School -- also were named Merit Scholars.
The Merit Scholars were picked from a pool of about 15,000 finalists in the 2007 National Merit Scholarship Program. The competition began in October 2005, when more than 1.4 million juniors took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
This past fall, the highest-scoring participants in each state, representing less than 1 percent of the state's high school seniors, named National Merit semifinalists. About 15,000 of those seniors were determined to have met academic standards and other requirements to become National Merit finalists.
Later this month and again in July, another group of finalists will be named Merit Scholars. By the end of the 2007 program, about 8,200 seniors will have earned the distinction of being a Merit Scholar, program officials said.