Last year, more than 1.7 million high school juniors gathered in gymnasiums and classrooms across the country to take the PSAT/NMSQT, a modified version of the SAT that determines who is eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Out of those 1.7 million juniors, only 50,000 were recognized by the program, and only 34,000 of those students received letters of commendation. The top 1% of all scorers became National Merit Semifinalists, and the top 8,000 students—⅕ of a percent of the original test takers— were named National Merit Finalists in early February.
Three of those 8,000 are Timothy Christian High School students Lauren Ellens (on right in photo above), Joshua Pae (left), and Alex Zeilstra (middle).
There likely was not a single student or teacher surprised at the announcement of these three as top scorers. Lauren, Joshua, and Alex are in the top 5% of their class and occupy leadership positions in multiple extracurriculars. These three are not just good test-takers, they’re remarkable leaders and students.
Lauren Ellens is co-editor of The Trumpet (the high school publication and podcast), a member of the varsity mock trial team, a member of the girls’ soccer team, head of props crew for the theatre department, and a volunteer tutor. She placed first in the state for the ACES English test her sophomore year and has plans to become a civil engineer.
Joshua Pae is a six-time Outstanding Attorney on the varsity mock trial team, a member of both the varsity track and soccer teams, first chair violin in the orchestra, and a member of the chapel committee since his junior year. He’s been volunteering at Elmhurst Hospital for the majority of his high school career in hopes of gaining experience in the medical field.
Alex Zeilstra is the proverbial king of Scholastic Bowl having been a member throughout his high school career and captain of the varsity team since his junior year. Last year, he earned the Scholastic Bowl MVP award and led his team to second place in the state in the Class A division. He has also been a member of chapel committee both junior and senior year and plans to pursue a degree in computer science.
While their impressive test scores were what got them through the door to the semi-finalist round of the program, these impressive resumes, along with a recommendation letter, a personal essay, and their transcripts brought these three to the top of the heap.
Lauren, Alex, and Josh are so much more than their test scores and resumes, though. They’re kind, hardworking, and enthusiastic about the people and ideas they love. You’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher who doesn’t love having any of them in class or a friend who wouldn’t want to spend lunch with them (the author of this article being one of those). For the sake of time, let’s just say there’s more than one reason Lauren, Josh, and Alex are leaders of their respective extracurriculars.
The three remark that they’re grateful for the recognition from the program, but you can tell they’re not about to get big heads about it—they’re too busy for that. For these scholars, the sky's the limit.