Forrest Wells, a 2009 Ashland High School graduate, has been awarded a National Merit Scholarship.

Forrest Wells, a 2009 Ashland High School graduate, has been awarded a National Merit Scholarship.

Wells is one of several thousand high school seniors picked across the country, out of nearly one-and-a-half million who applied. The scholarships are given each year to students who demonstrate outstanding potential in the classroom.

"I'm really happy about it," Wells said. "I only found out recently."

One of this year's AHS valedictorians, Wells was also a captain of the speech and debate team. He even co-wrote and directed a school play, named 'The Incredible Play.'

Outside of school, he is a ten-year veteran of Chun Kuk Do-style martial arts.

"Classes are great for giving you a knowledge base," he said, "but you need more things to develop your mind, and extracurriculars can give you discipline you don't get in those classes."

Reluctant to brag about any of his accomplishments, he prefers to talk about his parents, Steven Wells and Mary Cutler. They helped instill discipline him, Wells said, by allowing him to develop it on his own.

"They kind of let me do my own thing," he said. "From a very young age they were encouraging me to be reading. They let me choose my classes and study how I wanted to, and that was great because it let me follow my own path."

Not all parents have that luxury. Wells says he has always had a passion for learning and, according to Ashland High School principal Jeff Schlecht, that passion was evident throughout his time there.

"He is such an engaging, unique student, and he has done a fantastic job," Schlecht said.

He said Wells is the school's third National Merit Scholarship recipient in his seven years as principal.

"It is not something that happens all the time," Schlecht said.

With the right combination of financial assistance, Wells could have chosen from a selection of elite private schools. But instead he chose a school closer to home, the University of Oregon.

"Going to a small liberal arts school would have been enough of a financial burden that I wasn't interested in doing it," he said. "My parents could have managed it, but it would have involved them working more, it would involve a second mortgage on the house, so those were sacrifices we weren't willing to make."

Wells is set to enroll in the University's honors college this fall, with one serious advantage over his freshmen peers: he won't be a freshman at all. Five advanced placement courses, three years of Spanish and one stellar debate career translates into 48 university credits — good for a sophomore standing.

Because of his hard work, no one at AHS could find much trouble in Wells' missing the last week of school for a family vacation — provided he complete his remaining assignments and final examinations before leaving. The trip was a two-week rafting adventure with his father down the Colorado River. Wells finished his work early, and took the trip.

You might not expect a valedictorian and National Merit Scholarship winner to see much room for personal improvement. But floating down the river, which passes through the Grand Canyon, he found himself thinking about his future, and came up with some advice to live by.

"One of the big conclusions that I came to is that I've spent a lot of time really goal-focused," he said. "I like where that's brought me, but I'd also like to learn to just go with the flow a little bit."