Three Cheers for Our Three T.C. Williams Seniors Named as Semifinalists in the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Competition

Three T.C. Williams High School seniors have been named as semifinalists for the 2020 National Merit Scholarship competition.

Riley M. Casagrande, James S. Grimes and Leah M. Nickelsburg made it down to the last 16,000 of 1.5 million applicants from 21,000 high schools nationwide.

The trio qualified by being amongst the highest scoring students in Virginia when they took the Preliminary SAT in 2018.

To reach the semifinals of such a prestigious national program is a huge achievement by Riley, James and Leigh. All of us at T.C. are extremely proud of them and recognize their hard work and dedication. We will be rooting for them to make the final round,” said Peter Balas, T.C. Williams High School principal.

Riley, James and Leah all felt confident after they took the PSAT but were unsure whether they had done well enough to qualify in the top 1% of all students in Virginia.

“I felt good about it, I felt I’d done well. It was a little easier than I had expected but I knew 1% was a very small number, so I was far from certain that I would make it,” said Riley.

“I thought I had a 50:50 chance,” added Leah.

All three were together when they found out at the same time as the rest of the school when Principal Balas made an announcement over the PA system.

James, who has since received messages of support from his proud third and fourth grade teachers, said, “The funny thing was that Riley, Leah and I were all in the same classroom together when we heard. There was some clapping and a lot of congratulations.”

He texted his delighted family, as did Leah. Riley says she forgot until later in the day.

“I realized later that I should probably let them know!” she said.

Now, the hard work begins again as they bid to make the final 15,000 students — half of these will go on to win financial scholarships.

Judges will look for a record of consistently high academic performance in all grades 9 through 12 and consider a detailed application provided by both the student and a T.C. staff member.

The three will be expected to demonstrate participation in school and community activities, leadership abilities, employment, and honors and awards received.

An essay must also be submitted and their SAT or ACT scores must confirm their earlier performance on the qualifying test.

The organization aims to reward academically-dedicated students, encourage academic excellence at all levels of education and promote a deeper respect for learning in general.

The seniors will learn in February if they have been shortlisted for the next stage.

We will be happy for whoever makes it through, even if some of us don’t,” said James who hopes to study economics at college.

Approximately 7,600 finalists will be in the running to become National Merit Scholars and collect a share of $31 million in college scholarship funding. Winners will be announced in stages between April and July next year.

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