Six Ashland high school seniors were named National Merit Semifinalists last week, adding one more credential for students seeking admission to prestigious colleges next fall.




"It's nice to have some payoff," said Jenna Wixon-Genack, one of the winners. "All those tests seem so pointless."




Like most of the AHS awardees, Wixon-Genack has a long list of potential colleges. Princeton University tops her list for now, and her status as a National Merit semifinalist will give her one more boost to get in, and perhaps a way to fund her education.




More than 1.4 million students take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test each year, and about 16,000 of those students, including the six at AHS, earn the qualification of a semifinalist.




Starting in February, students who advance to finalist standing compete for scholarship money, which can include four-year full tuition scholarships. Even students who don't make it past the semifinalist stage qualify for sizeable scholarships at many colleges.




"My parents are really excited," said Katie Hawley, noting that her semifinalist designation could help pay for Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Harvey Mudd College, where she would like to study science next year.




"I'm looking forward to college because I'm running out of classes to take here," she said.




In addition to their academic success, these students are also involved in extra-curricular activities throughout the year. Hawley is captain of the Science Bowl team and plays the bassoon. Wixon-Genack rows with the Ashland Rowing Club. Fellow semifinalists Amber Lowey and Camden Lopez play varsity soccer; Jesse Javna plays varsity basketball and edits the student newspaper. Matt Miner, who was visiting Dartmouth University, runs cross country and track.




"These kids really are exceptional students," said Principal Jeff Schlecht. "What I said to them was 'Enjoy the moment. You should not only pat yourself on the back for staying focused, but it's time to thank your families and all the teachers along the way who have challenged you.'"




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