Merit: (noun) the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.
The word merit invokes a sense of accomplishment, of deeds that deserve distinction. For a pair of Jackson Hole High School seniors, their meritorious achievement has indeed earned them recognition — on a national scale.
Kade Hatten and Megan Dufault have been named semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship, an award that recognizes some of the highest-achieving students around the country. To be named semifinalists the pair had to notch top scores on the preliminary SAT. The corporation that runs the award said more than 1.5 million juniors took the test last year, and the pool of semifinalists is roughly 16,000 kids, or about 1% of those who took the PSAT.
“What this shows is that we have students in Teton County that are scoring at or above national marks,” Jackson Hole High School Principal Scott Crisp said.
The National Merit program is weighted by state, so Wyoming’s number of semifinalists is proportional to its share of the national population. Hatten and Dufault are two of just 20 semifinalists from Wyoming. From here they have until Oct. 9 to submit their applications to be finalists, which includes a tabulation of their extracurricular activities and a personal essay. About 15,000 students will be named finalists, and about 7,500 will receive scholarships.
For anyone who has ever applied to college or for a scholarship, the prompt for the essay will be familiar. The application asks Hatten and Dufault to describe an experience, an influential person or a challenge and how it affected them.
“The prompt’s pretty generic,” Dufault said. “But it’s definitely talking about personal growth.”
With so few years under their belts, the students have had to seek out opportunities for the kind of growth scholarship administrators are looking for. In a slight coincidence, Hatten and Dufault participated in a four-week St. John’s Medical Center internship this past summer, in which they gained firsthand experience at the hospital.
The intensive practicum was particularly valuable because Hatten and Dufault are considering careers in health care.
“It was really a pretty special opportunity because we were bouncing around to a bunch of different departments,” Hatten said.
Though neither knew for sure what they were going to write about when they sat down with the News&Guide on Thursday, Dufault was leaning toward writing about the hospital internship or a relationship that she has developed with a boy she tutors at the Teton Literacy Center. Hatten, for his part, was considering writing about a 30-day National Outdoor Leadership School trip he took in the Yukon and British Columbia.
That kind of adventure is at the forefront of Hatten’s mind as he thinks about the field he wants to enter. The medical field has a bevy of options, from psychoanalyst to nurse, but he wants to use his interests to drive an exploit-filled career.
“I’m leaning towards being an emergency medicine doctor,” Hatten said. “So maybe I could be an expedition doctor. That’d be awesome.”
Whatever Hatten and Dufault choose to do with their lives, the colleges they have their sights set on will certainly give them a leg up. Hatten seems intent on Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, though he is also considering its Ivy League rival Yale University, where he thinks he may be able to walk onto the cross-country team.
Dufault is also considering Dartmouth, but other liberal art schools in New England were higher on her list. With family back East, schools like Brown University in Rhode Island and Bowdoin College in Maine are a big draw.
Before they finish their college entrance applications, they’ll turn their attention to the National Merit Scholarship and hope the judges appreciate their blend of experience, which for both includes athletics, volunteerism and scholastic achievement.
“We know that when kids are involved in things beyond classes, they do better,” Crisp said. “And they’re a great example of that.”
Even being held as models for other students, Hatten and Dufault have already learned that life is an exercise in balance, a lesson they wanted to impart on students coming up the ranks behind them who have dreams of Ivy League schools and national scholarships.
“For the students that are super outgoing and try to do everything, just do what you love,” Dufault said. “Don’t try to be the student whose application has all 50 clubs. Do what you like to do and stick with it.”