Two National Merit Scholarship finalists from Monarch High School look to the future

Jack Golio and Janet Lopez are two Monarch High School seniors who are making the same choices that millions of their peers across the country are making this month, as they go from being high school’s Class of 2017 to college’s Class of 2021.

But they’re also part of an elite group. They join less than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors who are finalists in the National Merit Scholarship competition, and they are the third and fourth finalists in the 14-year history of Monarch High. Finalists are narrowed from a group of 16,000 semifinalists selected on the basis of their 2015 PSAT scores, academic achievements, leadership abilities, honors, and school and community involvement.

About half of all finalists receive some kind of scholarship—National Merit $2,500 Scholarships, corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards and college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards. They learn if they’ve won by the end of June.

Golio and Lopez both say simply being a finalist already has opened doors. They say the prestige paves the way to additional financial aid. It is, therefore, a means toward getting a college education without drowning in debt.

Golio wants to be a lawyer; Lopez says she has known since kindergarten that she wants to be a teacher.

Neither student has decided what university they will be attending. For Golio, it will most likely be the honors program at the University of Florida, although he says he was wait-listed by Harvard and Georgetown universities and was accepted to other Florida universities. Lopez is leaning toward Nova Southeastern University from a pick of schools. She has acceptance letters from Duke, Vanderbilt, Yale, Harvard, University of Florida, Central Florida and Miami as well.

An aspiring high-school English teacher, Lopez, 17, figures it is best for her to stay in Broward County, because that’s where she wants to have a career.

“So many people believe that if you get into a college that has a high level of prestige, that you must go,” she says. “But I think it’s more about what you want to do with your future.”

By attending an in-state school like UF, and being a Merit Scholarship finalist, Golio, 18, is confident he won’t have to take on debt for his undergraduate degree. Law school might be another story. “Doesn’t every law student want to go to Harvard Law?” he says.

Golio and Lopez say their parents have been great supporters, but they both display independence about their futures and what they hope to contribute to the world. So what’s different about the upcoming college Class of 2021, according to the two scholars?

Lopez says access to the internet and other technologies has given her generation an edge because of the ability to gather information and gain knowledge “quickly.”

Golio believes that his generation is probably the “most aware because of society and cultures becoming more global,” he says. “As teenagers, we have so much available to us, yet we still need to be resourceful. We’re not that much different than past generations. What everyone hopes is that you can make something of yourself.”

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