Wilson Hall seniors Kirsten Fisher and Matthew Tavarez share many things in common. They're friends and high achievers in the classroom, both love to learn and discover new things, both train together and run on the school's cross country and track teams, and both desire to possibly pursue a career in bioengineering.
Recently, they shared another distinction: Both were named National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists. The highly prestigious honor goes to 16,000 high school seniors nationwide who score in the top 1 percent on the Preliminary SAT as juniors. They were the only two high school seniors selected this year for all of Sumter County. Tavarez scored a 1,450 out of a possible 1,520 on the PSAT last year while Fisher tallied a 1,480.
Both are thrilled to receive the national honor, which brings with it attention from colleges and universities across the U.S.
Fisher credits her mom and dad for instilling in her a desire to do well in school from a young age. Born and raised in Sumter, Fisher said her favorite subjects are the sciences and math.
It takes only a few minutes in talking with Fisher to see her inner drive to succeed.
Wilson Hall College Counselor Diane Richardson, who works with the school's juniors and seniors on their college planning, said Fisher is a highly focused student.
"Kirsten is driven to succeed," Richardson said. "She will be one of those students who - one day - we will be so thankful we have her. I just see her in research or some helps career. She's hungry to learn."
Outside of class, Fisher enjoys reading and the opportunity to compete on the cross country and track teams at Wilson Hall.
"I love running, and sports gives me an opportunity to run with teammates and compete and use my abilities," Fisher said.
Also motivated by his parents to succeed, Tavarez moved with his family to Sumter when he was 8 years old. He attended Wilson Hall from the fourth through 10th grades, before attending the state Governor's School for Science & Mathematics last year in Hartsville. He's back at Wilson Hall for his senior year.
As far as career goals, Tavarez said his aren't set in stone, but for now after earning an undergraduate degree in biology, he said he would like to pursue a master's in bioengineering or go to medical school to become a doctor.
Outside of school, he loves learning about different subjects online and enjoys relationships with his friends.
Tavarez said it's quite an honor just to be selected as a National Merit Scholar semifinalist because the honor goes to only 16,000 high school seniors in the country. About half of the semifinalists - 7,500 - actually earn the National Merit Scholarship.
"I think the honor that I have right now - to be recognized as a semifinalist - in itself is a great honor," Tavarez said. "Only 16,000 are named semifinalists in the country, and then 7,500 end up getting the scholarship. So, really getting the scholarship - in my mind - is not a huge step up from the honor I already have. It's just the top half of the semifinalists. I'm very happy with the distinction that I have now."
Richardson described Tavarez as a quick learner but said he's quick to show gratitude and is blessed with a humble spirit.
Wilson Hall Headmaster Fred Moulton said he's proud of the two seniors' accomplishments and said it's building on the school's reputation. He noted during the last five years, the school has had 11 National Merit semifinalists.
"Becoming a National Merit semifinalist at Wilson Hall isn't a one-time occurrence, but it's happening most every year, which is a reflection of our teachers and curriculum and student effort and parental input," Moulton said.