Three students from Arcadia High School have received well-deserved recognition as finalists for the 68th annual National Merit Scholarship. The award was created in 1955 and highlights academically talented students and their accomplishments.
Approximately 1.5 million high school students enter the program each year. William Logue, Grace Reed and Elsa Steen Koppel are among 15,000 high schoolers nationwide to advance in the program, culminating in $2,500 scholarships awarded to about 7,500 finalists every year. Students must have a qualifying PSAT score to apply for the scholarship. To become a finalist, they also need to submit an essay, letters of recommendation and a high school transcript.
The scholarship amounts vary based on college choice, or the level one reaches in the competition. Of the 15,000 finalists, 2,500 reach the Scholar level and earn $2,500 from the organization. At finalist status, students are eligible for college-sponsored and corporate-sponsored scholarships.
William wrote his essay on “the journey through the various beliefs I’ve held and my decision to pursue philosophy. I eventually concluded that even if we never know what truth is, truth has inherent value, and we have a moral obligation to pursue it and be skeptical,” he said.
William said that he wasn’t too surprised when he’d become a finalist, citing that well over 90 percent of semifinalists advance to the next round.
“I was, however, incredibly shocked when I initially received my qualifying test scores,” he laughed.
William works as a data analyst for Team Select Home Care and plays the Spanish guitar as a pastime outside of school. After graduation, he will head to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
“Williams students don’t declare their major until the end of their sophomore year, but I plan on double majoring in philosophy and either mathematics or physics,” he said. “After that, I’d love to go to Oxford for graduate study, but it’s hard to predict what I’ll do that far in the future.”
Once Grace gathered up all the required materials and completed her PSATs, she set on completing the essay portion of the scholarship. She explained that the prompt was open-ended, so she wrote about a meaningful experience working with the ACEing Autism organization, which aims to improve the social and communicative skills of children with autism through tennis.
“Over the years, the participants taught me just as much as I taught them,” Grace said. “I learned the importance of effective communication and positive reinforcement, both with autistic people and my friends and colleagues.”
One example that stuck out to her was clear communication being the difference between someone wanting to participate because they understand what is going on, or dreading participating because they don’t feel confident in their next steps.
“When I compared the environment inside ACEing Autism to the real world, I noticed a stark difference. Society has become so quick to judge or laugh at people when they try something new or make a mistake. In my five years of working with ACEing Autism, it has become very close to my heart. I have seen the program’s difference in children’s lives,” she said.
Grace said she was shocked when she learned that she was a semifinalist and in the running to be a finalist.
“It was so many months after I had taken the PSAT. I had no clue that semifinalists were even being announced!” she said. “I was very excited when I got the news.”
Grace plays on both the varsity golf and tennis teams at Arcadia High and participates in multiple clubs, including NABT (National Association of Biology Teachers), BioClub and the National Honor Society. She plans to go to the Barrett Honors College at ASU and major in chemical engineering.
Elsa Steen Koppell
One of the essay prompts asked finalists to explain the most impactful moment they’ve had in public service.
“I chose to write about something I experienced volunteering at NourishPHX. While I was working at the food box counter, a woman came through who shared the same first name as me,” Elsa said. “When I remarked on the similarity, she initially dismissed it, but after a few minutes, she returned to me and told me that our name means ‘child of God’ and that we have a good name.”
Elsa wrote about how this interaction helped her to see public service as a collaborative effort, an act of emphasizing and respecting human dignity.
“I will probably never see Elsa again, but she helped me to understand that public service is rewarding because of the human connections we forge doing it. I prefer volunteer opportunities where I get to interact with people because it feels more meaningful to me,” she said.
Elsa was surprised and excited when she learned that she had made it to the finalist position.
“I had gone to bed after a grueling band rehearsal when my parents came into my room with the envelope. I was exhausted and nervous, but after opening the letter, my mood greatly improved!” she said.
Elsa’s list of extracurricular activities is extensive: she’s on the Spirit of Arcadia Marching Band, the National Charity League, Arcadia Speech & Debate Team, played softball (and made varsity her senior year!), National Honor Society and Temple Solel Madrichim.
“I am undecided on where I am attending college. Wherever I end up, I am interested in pursuing a double major in mathematics and political science,” she said. “I also intend to continue playing clarinet and drum majoring in my college’s music ensemble and marching band.”
The National Merit offices host no official celebration, but Elsa said that the staff at Arcadia High have been sending her, Grace, Will, and other commended scholars ominous emails about doughnut parties to celebrate achievements. She suspects this may happen if anyone receives a scholarship in 2022.