Each year, about 1.6 million high school juniors take the PSAT to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Only about 16,000 qualify as semifinalists. Three of those students are seniors at Richmond Hill High School - Bethany Belfield, Alejandra Gonzalez and Joshua Gregory. Here’s a little bit about each student, in their words.
My name is Beth Belfield, and I’m currently a senior at RHHS. I moved to Richmond Hill around 8 years ago from Staffordshire, England, where I was born. All of my family still lives back there, except my brother (who’s in 11th grade), mom, and dad. Along with my family, I have a dog and cat at home.
Most of my time is spent doing school work, extra curricular activities, and volunteer work, but when I’m not doing those things I love to read and spend time on/in the water, whether that be swimming, boating, or at the beach. I also love watching movies and shopping with friends in my free time.
Being a National Merit Scholar is a huge deal for me, and I was overjoyed when I found out I had made it as a semifinalist. I didn’t do too much to prepare for the PSAT, but I felt confident after taking the test last year. Being a semifinalist is something that colleges will look at with regard, and I think it’s an honor to be able to put it on my applications.
After I graduate, I plan on attending college to major in neuroscience and minor in biology. I am applying early decision to Johns Hopkins University this month, and will then apply to other schools for regular decision depending on the result from Hopkins. I hope to pursue a career in neuroscience, but I have not yet decided what I would specifically like to do in the field.
I attribute my academic success to not just one thing or person, but the culture of learning and succeeding that I have grown up pursuing. My parents, from a young age, commended my successes and pushed my to do best, no matter the outcome. I have always been extremely self-motivated and driven, and I believe this has helped tremendously in all my endeavors. From a young age, I have always been ahead of my peers academically, and when living in England I was moved up a grade to accommodate for this. I had an early start on learning more difficult and challenging concepts. The teachers I’ve had over the years have also perpetuated this idea of success and supported me in all I have worked towards, both in and out of the classroom.
My favorite book is too hard to choose, but some of my top picks would have to be The Picture of Dorian Grey, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Help. My favorite movies are Great Gatsby, Forrest Gump, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. My favorite TV show is Grey’s Anatomy; I love watching a hospital environment that I hope to someday work in. My favorite food is any kind of Mexican cuisine. My favorite person from history is Princess Diana. I did a presentation about her in 9th grade and learned about all of the incredible work she did and the impact of her philanthropic efforts around the world. Ever since, I have loved reading about her and learning more for the work she did at such a young age.
I am originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, where the grand majority of my family still lives. I love them very much and enjoy visiting them every year, but I am thankful that my dad moved our family to the United States. Still living in Mexico, it would have been harder to come across great opportunities like National Merit, and, in general, to obtain the quality of education I’ve received in Mississippi (where I previously lived) and Georgia.
When I’m not studying or in school, I enjoy playing piano and going running with my dad. I’ve been playing piano for about seven years, and though I am not able to give it all the daily practice time it requires, it is usually relaxing. The more frequently I practice, the more enjoyable it is and the more I look forward to the next session, a welcome phenomenon that is not applicable to, say, studying for tests. Similarly, running with my dad provides a break from school and a chance to spend some pent-up energy.
I definitely consider being a National Merit semifinalist one of my biggest accomplishments, something I was aiming for but by no means sure I would get. Although getting to this level is an award in itself, I knew it was never so much an end goal as a door-opener to college opportunities in both admissions and financial aid.
My current plan is to study biochemistry as an undergraduate degree in order to continue with higher education into medical school. I look forward to exploring career options in college to ensure that I make the best career decision for myself.
I attribute my academic success to a variety of factors. I work hard to get my school work and studying done consistently and to get myself interested in the courses I take; it helps that I have come across several learned, engaging teachers during my time at Richmond Hill. My parents are also very supportive of me in the best possible ways. They check on me, but they trust me to do my best in school. At times, they are not shy to tell me not to be too hard on myself.
One of my favorite books is Shakespeare’s King Lear because of the beauty of the language and the depth of the characters, but this is a hard choice to make because CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity was also very eye-opening and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was a very enjoyable read.
My favorite movie… I love to watch The Sound of Music. It is always uplifting and never gets old. Casablanca is also a favorite classic of mine. I watch TV, but I’m not particularly invested in any show; I would rather watch movies.
My favorite food is anything my mom makes (lots of Mexican dishes, many involving beans). As far as historical figures go, I admire Thomas Jefferson. I get chill bumps reading the Declaration of Independence. He is also an example of how, contrary to popular opinion, the Founders were very aware of the future problems the nation would encounter and the evils of their day, such as slavery.
I’ve lived in the Savannah area for my entire life, and I moved to Richmond Hill in the third grade. School has been my primary focus throughout my life, but I am also involved in numerous clubs and organizations that have provided me with fun, character-building experiences. I have been a member of Boy Scout Troop 400 for years and recently earned my Eagle Scout award by leading a group of volunteers in painting the new children’s area at Compassion Christian Church. Speaking of Compassion, I regularly attend church there and volunteer in the Production Arts ministry by operating the cameras that record and broadcast our worship and service. The school organization in which I am most involved is the marching band. I play the tenor saxophone and have contributed to winning six Grand Championships. I am also a member of the National Honor Society, Beta Club, Young Republicans, Model U.N., Ultimate Frisbee Club, and Venture Crew 400. During my rare moments of free time from these commitments, I spend time with family and friends and make memories with them.
Being a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist is a great honor. I am very dedicated to my studies, and it is rewarding to have that hard work be recognized in a national competition. I look forward to competing for a Finalist spot and the potential of being awarded a scholarship.
After I graduate from high school, I plan to attend university and earn my undergraduate degree in the field of Business. I then plan to attend graduate school - or possibly law school or medical school - and earn a graduate degree.
The first person who comes to mind when I think of my academic success is my mom. She stands behind me to motivate me in every aspect of my life. Without her constant words of good advice, I am not sure that I would be here today as a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist. As a freelance editor and writer, she has helped to make me a much better writer, for which I am very thankful. I also have to thank numerous teachers who have had a significant impact on my success. My teachers, including Ms. Kea, Mrs. Goldrick, Mrs. Compton, and Mr. Balduff, have taught me more than world history and pre-calculus: They taught me how to effectively utilize my God-given abilities to reach a deeper level of thinking and understanding. The skills that I have learned in their classes will serve me well beyond my years as a student.
My favorite book series is the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. While I primarily read the books as an adolescent, the lessons on Greek mythology and the relatable characters have stuck with me until this day. My favorite movie is a classic that I watched throughout my childhood: The movie Swiss Family Robinson showcases an adventurous family who must fight to protect themselves and having fun along the way. My favorite television series is The Office. This comedy that I binge-watched in a month always leaves me smiling and grateful for the friends in my own life. My favorite food is my grandmother’s country fried steak; it brings back memories of fun-filled Thanksgiving family reunions with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. Finally, my favorite person from history is Henry Clay. Known as “The Great Compromiser,” Clay successfully orchestrated several enormous Congressional compromises during the 1800s that stalled the onset of the Civil War. His methods of seeking compromise are desperately needed in today’s political climate and I greatly respect his efforts.