SPHS Celebrates 41 National Merit Award Winners

Front row from left: SPHS National Merit commended scholars Kayla Zhang, Jonathan Zhu, Raymond Yeo, Jaden Mullin, Nicky Kim, Alison Lao, Helena Echenique and Sarah Sy. Back row from left: Jack Gordon, Alexander Betts, Uma Hornish, Michael Xiong, Chi Chow, Francesco Fortunelli, Steven Chin (front), Brian Sheldon (behind), Nicolo Porcu, Ryan Lu, Johann Li and Meghana Sagare. Photo by Skye Hannah

South Pasadena High School (SPHS) students, teachers, staff and family members came together in the school’s cafeteria on March 13 to celebrate 41 SPHS seniors who achieved the awards of semifinalists and commended scholars in the National Merit Scholarship Program. The event was hosted by the SPHS Associated Student Body (ASB) Commissioners.

The seniors earned their awards by earning high-index scores on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).

According to the National Merit website, 1.6 million students nationally participate and only 50,000 qualify for recognition in the program. Approximately one-third, or 16,000, of that number are semifinalists and the other two-thirds, or 34,000, are commended scholars. Semifinalists will go on to be one of 7,500 finalists and have a chance at being selected for Merit Scholarship awards or Special Scholarships to support their academic aspirations.

This year, SPHS had 41 recognized students with six semifinalists (Miranda Cheung, Kai Dettman, Lindsey Kuwahara, Jake Manzo, Maylis Whetsel and Elene Wu) and 35 commended scholars (Wressey Baugham, Alexander Betts, Elizabeth Bock, Steven Chin, Hanna Choi, Chi Chow, Natalie Deng, Helena Echenique, Francesco Fortunelli, Jack Gordon, Alekzander Grijalva, Brooke Held, Uma Hornish, Boris Ip, Ryan Leong, Benjamin Kim, Nicky Kim, Alison Lao, Brandon Lee, Johann Li, Ryan Liu, Sean McLane, Jaden Mullin, Noah Parker, Nicolo Porcu, Meghana Sagare, Brian Sheldon, Sarah Sy, Michael Xiong, Jiamin Xu, Kevin Xu, Raymond Yeo, Angela Zhang, Kayla Zhang and Jonathan Zhu).

At the breakfast, staff and administrators spoke to the attendees before students participated in a question and answer session that ranged from the noble in their strongest influences (parents, grandparents, friends and teachers) to the fanciful in what animal would they be if they could be one (tigers, pandas, sloths and horses were some favorites).

SPHS Counselor Marylin Garcia said she admired the students’ kindness on campus and their giving spirit, which extends beyond test scores.

Front row from left: SPHS Counselor Tracy Ishimaru, with National Merit semifinalists seniors Lindsey Kuwahara, Miranda Cheung, Elene Wu and Counselor Olinda Cazares. Back row from left: Counselor Nan Ng, Jake Manzo, Maylis Whetsel, Kai Dettman and Marylin Garcia. Photo by Skye Hannah

“You all have integrity, you all are genuine in your desire to achieve higher education and you work really hard not only on taking tests but contributing back to the community which is way more than studying for a test,” said Garcia.

SPHS Principal Janet Anderson celebrated the hard work of the students and particularly thanked the families for their support of their students. She noted that “we’ve never had a room this full” for the National Merit breakfast.
“Your kids got here because you’ve been very supportive, you have given role modeling and you have encouraged them,” Anderson remarked to the crowd. “Clearly, we’re in a room of very bright people, but being bright, being smart is not all it takes. Here at South Pasadena High School, we believe in a growth mindset. They don‘t just achieve because they have inherent talents and intelligence. They achieve because they work hard.”
Anderson also reminded the students to stay true to their passions and giving back in genuine ways. 
“As you go off to college, I hope you will continue to seek involvement that is authentic to you, not something that you think is a resume builder because that’s hollow,” said Anderson. “I want you to really continue on your path of genuine, authentic participation and I wish you all the best and congratulations on your achievements.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Yantz shared words of gratitude for teachers, counselors, support staff and administrators who supported the students in earning their accomplishments. Reflecting on a mantra he shares often with his own children before school, he passed them onto the students.

“As you pack up your bags getting ready to move onto your next challenge in life, please remember that: work hard, have fun and be kind, and you will have a very fulfilling life,” said Yantz.