CORRECTION: The first edition of this story stated Cate Wheeler was the first Centerburg student to earn a National Merit Scholarship. After receiving feedback from a reader, we have confirmed that this is not the case, and that there were more recipients before Wheeler. We apologize for this misprint. This was a result of miscommunication between our reporter and the school administrators he spoke with on the night of the ceremony. The story has been updated to reflect the correct information.
CENTERBURG – Cate Wheeler is elite. How elite?
Approximately 1.6 million high school students enter the National Merit Scholarship competition each year. This year, Wheeler was one of 7,500 to earn a scholarship. That’s the top half of the 99th percentile – the proverbial ‘cream of the crop’ when it comes to America’s most promising young scholars.
Centerburg has had National Merit Scholarship semifinalists and finalists before, but few Trojans have ever made the final cut. This year, Wheeler did just that.
Wheeler was recognized for her historic achievement at Centerburg High School’s academic awards ceremony last Thursday. The senior proudly accepted a plaque from guidance counselor Stephen Parpart, and afterwards called the distinction a “huge honor.”
“I’m very excited to represent my school in this way,” Wheeler said. “It’s nice to have my academic career recognized.”
Wheeler is headed to Miami University (OH) next fall to study environmental and humanitarian engineering. She’s been involved in numerous organizations during her time at CHS, including National Honor Society and the Ohio Scholars Association.
She is the editor-in-chief of the award-winning Trojan Crier and is also a three-sport athlete, competing in cross country, basketball and track. Wheeler is a member of several extracurricular organizations, including New Directions’ Teen Advisory Council, and she plays music at her church.
The senior plans on using her engineering education to help solve the world’s water and food crisis. Parpart said Wheeler serves as a role model for the district’s younger students, as she is more than just an A+ scholar.
“It’s not just the academics, you know, there’s the whole picture. And that’s why I chose to say what a fantastic human being she is, as opposed to student. Because there’s more to her than that, there’s a lot more to her,” said Parpart, who has been the high school guidance counselor for six years.
“When you talk to her, she really has great values. She wants to go study humanitarian engineering for the right reasons – she wants to solve the world’s water and food crisis. So she has these ideas and she wants to help people.”
The road to becoming a National Merit Scholarship winner – America’s highest mark for pre-collegiate success – is rigorous. High school students across the country begin by taking the PSAT/NMSQT their sophomore or junior year. Of the 1.6 million annual entrants, around 50,000 qualify for recognition in the National Merit Scholars Program. These high scorers are notified through their schools in September that they have qualified as either a Commended Student or semifinalist.
Only 16,000 students are considered semifinalists, advancing to the next stage of the competition. Semifinalists are asked to complete an online application, provide a record of their high school grades and extracurricular involvements, write an essay, and submit a letter of recommendation to be considered for finalist standing. Semifinalists must also score in the top one percent in the nation on the SAT to qualify.
In February, 15,000 students are selected as finalists. From that group, 7,500 are chosen as scholarship winners, based on their abilities, skills and accomplishments.
Wheeler received a scholarship from Miami University as a result of her National Merit achievements.
After last Thursday’s awards ceremony, Wheeler said she was “super proud” to represent Centerburg on a national stage. She shared some advice for younger Trojans, who may want to follow a similar path one day.
“I think it just pays off. All those nights that you spend studying, or sometimes those times when you say you’d like to stay home and prepare for a test instead of going out with your friends and things – like, your hard work will be recognized and people will pay attention to what you do,” Wheeler said.
“So it’s important to just keep your values in mind and know what’s important to you, and as long as you work hard toward your goals then you’re going to achieve great things.”
Parpart praised Wheeler for her maturity, discipline and work ethic. She's the ideal role model, Parpart said – not because she is a National Merit Scholarship winner, but because she gives her personal best every day.
“I want kids to know that, hey, not everybody’s going to be a three-sport athlete and involved in all this stuff, and be a National Merit Scholar. That’s OK," Parpart said. "Just do your own personal best, is what I ask them to do, and that’s what she’s done.”
Students grades 6-12 honored at ceremony
Wheeler joined a group of 10 seniors who were recognized for being in the top 10 percent of their class, based on their cumulative grade point averages over the last four years. Six of the seniors were present Thursday, and they spoke about what's next in their educational careers.
Savannah Gammell is going to Otterbein University to study nursing. She hopes to one day become a neonatal nurse practitioner. Chloe Jarrett is headed to Ohio University to study communications. Chloe Merriman plans to study English and Spanish at Ohio State University. She hopes to one day become a professor.
Cynthia Morris is going to the University of Cincinnati to study music education and mathematics education. Elise Tucker will head to Liberty University (Va.) next fall to study nursing.
Heath Myers, Alayna Thomas, Kristy Vargo and Isabelle Wolford also finished in the top 10 percent of the senior class, but were not present Thursday to accept their awards.
Here’s who finished in the top 10 percent of each class, grades 6-12:
6th: Addison Ellison, Kayla Ferrell, Olivia Griffith, Bennett Hill, Jadyn Indiciani, Mia Keaton, Dylan Meier, Ashley Moore, Addison Staats.
7th: Ashton Arch, Breanna Ball, Gregory Beard, Rylee Bryant, Gavin Collins, Madeline Donabauer, Alexander Riegel, Kyle Schmidt, Taylor Tenzos, Stella Weisbrod.
8th: Ella Arny, Allison Crouse, Jasper Faught, Emilee Fletcher, Oliver Griffith, Corinne Hause, Autumn Kennedy, Casey Kennedy, Madigan Kennedy, Owen Merriman.
9th: Cecelia Carlisle, Sequoia Hein Byerly, Mckinnon Mead, Meredith Morgan, Brooke Otto, Kaitlyn Tenzos, Travis Thomas, Avery Tucker, Timothy Wheeler.
10th: Ian Arny, Benjamin Day, Blake Johnson, Hayley Long, Riana McVicker, Margaret Mitchell, Victoria Nash, Benjamin Riegel, Rebecca Scholl, Taylor Scowden.
11th: Samuel Bassett, Sophia Beeler, Dawson Copley, Emma Dickhof, Makenzie Fields, Trey Figgins, Olivia Gregory, Dalton Hott, Zoe Webb.
12th: Savannah Gammell, Chloe Jarrett, Chloe Merriman, Cynthia Morris, Heath Myers, Alayna Thomas, Elise Tucker, Kristy Vargo, Catherine Wheeler, Isabelle Wolford.
High school students also earned academic letter awards if they accumulated 12 points throughout the school year. Students could earn four points per quarter by being on the Principal’s List (4.0 GPA); three points for being on the honor roll; two points for being on the merit roll; one point for having an ACT composite score of 23-27; and two points for having a score of 28 or higher.
Students who are members of the Ohio Scholars Association earned two points. National Merit Scholarship semifinalists earned four points, while finalists earned five points. Points were considered cumulative throughout the year.
Here were this year’s academic letter award-winners:
9th: Sequoia Hein Byerly, Mckinnon Mead, Brooke Otto, Kaityln Tenzos, Avery Tucker.
10th: Benjamin Day, Blake Johnson, Hayley Long, Riana McVicker, Victoria Nash, Benjamin Riegel.
11th: Samuel Bassett, Kaylee Blackstone, Lula Burke, Dawson Copley, Makenzie Fields, Trey Figgins, Lydia Grandstaff, Olivia Gregory, Grant Hayden, Dalton Hott, Grace Mulpas, Hayden Sutton, Andrew Waddell, Aeryn Walters, Zoe Webb.
12th: Emma Bentz, Savannah Gammell, Chloe Jarrett, Chloe Merriman, Cynthia Morris, Heath Myers, Lauren Pfeifer, Mackenzie Smith, Alayna Thomas, Morgan Tiller, Elise Tucker, Kristy Vargo, Catherine Wheeler, Isabelle Wolford, Johnathan Wood.
Snodgrass preaches integrity to young Trojans
To kick off last Thursday’s ceremony, Centerburg High School welcomed Jerry Snodgrass, executive director of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Snodgrass spoke to the crowd of students and parents about the importance of “maintaining your integrity in a society right now that devalues it.”
He also spoke about the value of high school sports – not as a way to get an athletic scholarship or a pro deal (which are often rare), but as a way to learn important life lessons.
“Most of you in school, you may go to college, you may go to an occupation. And I’m going to tell you, in most cases – in fact, over 98 percent of you – are not going to go on and do it in athletics,” Snodgrass said. “So, what do I talk about all the time? I talk about the greatest things that athletics offer.”
Snodgrass believes high school sports can teach problem-solving skills, teamwork, leadership, and the ability to “play by the rules.” He said it teaches youngsters “how to have fun” and also about the importance of integrity.
Above all, Snodgrass encouraged Centerburg’s youth to stay active in school clubs and programs. Life is a blank canvas at that age, Snodgrass said, and now is the perfect time to try new things.
“We’d love to be in your shoes,” Snodgrass said of the parents in the audience. “We’d love to be in your shoes because we have life experiences, whatever we did, to be able to do it over again. Not that we have regrets, but we see you as, you’ve got everything in front of you. And how awesome that is.”