Celebrating National Merit Citations


"Our community enjoys celebrating academic success," Academic Dean and History Teacher Susanna Waters said on Friday.

And that's exactly what students, faculty and staff did during all-school meeting on April 26, clapping and cheering for two students recently recognized for outstanding performances on the PSAT after Waters announced the news.

Emily Choe '20 and Maddie Hesse '20 were determined this spring to be in the highest-scoring 50,000 of the more than 1.6 million students who take the PSAT exam in 11th grade.

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"I was surprised!" admitted Choe (above) about the distinction from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (whose "Lamp of Learning" logo is modeled after an oil-burning lamp — "a classic symbol of knowledge and wisdom"). The fifth-former explained that she hadn't been stressed about the exam, but she was rattled when she was summoned to go see Dean Waters prior to school meeting.

"Mrs. Waters called me up one day and asked if I could come to her office for a short meeting," recalled Choe. "I was like, 'Uh oh am I in trouble?!' She said, 'No. It's really good news.' Then she told me and I was really excited. It made my day! It was really cool."


In 2017, Choe won Brooks' A.G. Davis Philip Prize, given by the Science Department to an individual who has demonstrated an interest in and who shows considerable promise in Science, at the Lawn Ceremony during Commencement Weekend.

Maddie Hesse was equally enthused. "Ever since I was little, I've always been intellectually curious and am constantly striving to learn," she said later that day following Waters' announcement. "So, being recognized felt great because it validated my hard work and my eagerness to learn."

Hesse won the A.G. Davis Philip Prize in 2018.

Waters referenced that hard work when she shared her thoughts about the citations. "Our Brooks School students engage diligently and enthusiastically with our curricula," said Waters. "[And] it's affirming when the students' learning enables them to perform proficiently on a nationwide exam and earn recognition for their achievement."

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When asked what tips she'd share with students preparing to take the test, Hesse urged others not to fixate on scores, though. "My advice to future test-takers is to learn for yourself, and to learn what makes you happy and what interests you," she said. "This will naturally carry over into your SAT scores and grades."

Choe and Hesse will learn if their places within the top 50,000 scorers will receive even further recognition this fall. "...About 16,000 will be named National Merit Program Semifinalists, representing the top scorers in each state, and the other 34,000 students will be commended for their performance," according to the letter from the National Merit Program that shared the duo's initial categorization.

Starting in September, semifinalists will have the opportunity to vie for a merit scholarship offered in 2020. Last year, semifinalists in the 64th annual scholarship program competed for 7,500 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $32 million.

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