National Merit Scholarship program names two Tualatin seniors as semifinalists

Tualatin High School seniors Lindsey Ferguson and Aiden Grealish sit next to each other in orchestra, where they both play violin. But the two 17-year-olds have something else in common: Due to their exemplary test scores on the PSAT, they were named semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship program.

Out of 1.5 million high school juniors who took the test last year, Ferguson and Grealish placed in the top 1 percent, a select nationwide group of about 16,000. To achieve the coveted designation of National Merit Scholar, each will have to complete an application process that reviews both academic and extracurricular accomplishments, and which considers recommendations submitted by school officials.

As finalists, Ferguson and Grealish would be eligible for scholarships, which are typically awarded to about 8,300 students across the country each year.

And of course, it all looks great on a college application.

Neither Grealish nor Ferguson has any problem proving academic mettle. Both are enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma program at TuHS, which includes an intensive curriculum with a rigid series of tests, as well as community service requirements and a course of independent study and research that results in an extended essay, typically around 4,000 words.

Grealish finds her passions divided between science and art — a path which might lead her to a double-major in biology and visual arts. She has her sights set on Brown University.

“They have a really open curriculum at Brown, they don’t have distribution requirements or a set of core classes you have to take,” Grealish says. “I’ve always had to balance my love of academics and science, but art is kind of my passion. You take the classes you want to take, and nothing else. It lets you explore things that maybe you wouldn’t have wanted to explore previously.”

This longtime Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes fan is planning to write her extended essay as an analysis of the original Holmes stories and their modern adaptations — specifically TV’s “Sherlock.”

Her career aspiration? “I want to be a forensic pathologist,” she says.

She’s also a member of the National Honor Society and plays double upright bass in TuHS’s jazz band.

Ferguson runs on the school’s cross-country team and has been pursuing an interest in veterinary medicine. Last summer, she worked at the OregonZoo as a member of the Zoo Teen program, and has been invited back to participate in the organization’s Leadership Corps this winter. She’s interested in becoming a veterinarian — perhaps even a zoo vet.

Ferguson plans to apply to a variety of colleges, including Oregon State, Auburn University, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Colorado State. She hopes to attend a school with a solid music program and a strong study abroad program, to enable her to spend at least one semester studying exotic animals in either Africa or Australia.

For her extended essay, Ferguson plans to trace how the Russian Revolution changed 20th century Russian music.

In Grealish’s view, even being a semifinalist is an achievement — one she believes colleges will notice. “It shows I’ve been working since I took the PSAT sophomore year, that I’ve been working for a long time. It’s such an honor.”

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