DeForest Area High School seniors Lauren Armstrong and Clare O’Connell, have been named National Merit Finalists, placing them among the most competitive students in the nation.

“It puts them in something like the 99th percentile of graduating seniors,” DeForest Area School District Superintendent Eric Runez explained, when the girls were recognized at the April 12 Board of Education Meeting.

One board member commented that one of them was wearing a NASA shirt and asked if they had specific plans for the future.

Armstrong, wearing the NASA shirt, began: “I’m planning on going into mechanical engineering and possibly product design after that, so I’m going to be heading to Olin College of Engineering this upcoming year.”

So far, O’Conell’s interests are taking her in the other direction, as she told the board.

“This is going to sound ridiculous,” said O’Connell, “but I’m thinking of music education or political science, and I’ve been accepted to both programs at a couple of schools, so I’m weighing the options.”

Runez and Board Member Sue Esser simultaneously interjected to correct: “That does not sound ridiculous at all.”

O’Connell went on to clarify potential confusion about the process: “We will stay finalists until we select a school and if that school gives us a scholarship, then we become national merit scholars, and if we don’t select a school that will give us a scholarship, then we remain finalists.”

“That still puts you in the top 99%,” said Runez, “so the honor remains the same.”

DeForest Area High School Principal Machell Schwarz, in one of her final appearances before the board as principal before she leaves the position, offered her congratulations and highlighted that the two girls were among 1 1/2 million applicants with only 15,000 finalists.

“They both have pristine transcripts,” said Schwarz, “they both challenged themselves with all sorts of honors and AP (Advanced Placement)-type coursework, and what I thought was really unique looking back at their coursework, is that they each really diversified themselves.”

In both girls’ cases, Schwarz rattled off a litany of sports, clubs, and honors activities that they each participated in throughout their high school careers.

Established in 1955, the National Merit Corporation is a non-profit organization which conducts the annual National Merit Scholarship Program.

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