Two GCHS seniors named National Merit finalists
by Jeff Richards
contributing writer
Feb 14, 2013 | 1971 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Grand County High School seniors Maren Larsen (left) and Mary Rice have been named National Merit Scholarship finalists. Photo by Jeff Richards
Grand County High School seniors Maren Larsen (left) and Mary Rice have been named National Merit Scholarship finalists. Photo by Jeff Richards
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Two Grand County High School seniors have been named National Merit Scholarship finalists, a prestigious honor attained by only 1 percent of the scholarship program’s approximately 1.5 million annual applicants.

GCHS Principal Stephen Hren recently informed Maren Larsen and Mary Rice of their achievement and presented them with certificates.

Rice and Larsen said they started the National Merit Scholar application process their junior year, when each took the PSAT test and received high scores. Then, as seniors, they then took the SAT test, the official qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship program.

Since 1974, Grand County High School has had 10 National Merit finalists, according to Eileen Artemakis, a public information officer for the National Merit Scholarship Corp. The scholarships have been awarded since 1956 but here is no database that tracks National Merit finalists prior to 1974, Artemakis said.

The program awards several thousand $2,500 scholarships to an elite group of incoming college students every year. Many sponsoring colleges and universities also offer their own awards based on an incoming student’s National Merit Scholar status. Although Rice and Larsen have not yet been notified of any monetary award, they said they are optimistic about their scholarship chances.

Both Rice and Larsen also had to write an essay as part of the National Merit Scholarship application process. Rice said she wrote hers about the necessity of political differences, while Larsen’s was about an ecological trip that she and other students took to Costa Rica.

Although being a National Merit finalist puts them in an elite group of high school seniors, the honor doesn’t necessarily translate into money for college. Rice said she was disappointed to learn that her primary college choice, New York University, is not a sponsoring institution, so she will have to find other means of paying for college if she chooses to go to NYU.

Rice said she has several possible in-state college options, including Westminster, and that she is also applying to Yale.  

“But my dream college is definitely NYU, and I’m trying to do whatever I can to be able to go there,” Rice said.

Larsen said she is also undecided on her college options.

“I think I’ll still have to compete for my scholarship,” she said, adding that her out-of-state college choices include Drexel University in Pennsylvania and Barnard College in New York. “I’ve applied to three in-state universities that I can go to pretty cheaply, so I’m not worried about that.”

Larsen said her Utah options include the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Westminster College.

Larsen and Rice have had similar, almost parallel high school careers, and their paths have often intertwined. Both have been heavily involved in the GCHS debate program, where they have each won individual awards and served as team captains. Each received student-of-the-month honors in the spring of 2012. Both have worked as reporters for Moab newsmedia, with Larsen writing for the Moab Sun News and Rice for The Times-Independent. Both have also written extensively for the school’s monthly newspaper, The Devils’ Advocate, and Rice currently serves as editor in chief. Larsen and Rice have also been involved in various other clubs and activities at GCHS, including the National Honor Society and Quiz Bowl.

Larsen, the daughter of Annie and Dave Larsen, said math and science are among her favorite school subjects. She serves as president of the school’s Earth Club.

Rice, the daughter of Ross Rice and Kate Cannon, said she enjoys theater. She had one of the leading roles in last fall’s GCHS production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” and also will appear in the Moab Community Theater’s upcoming production of “A Company of Wayward Saints” later this month. Rice is currently a student body officer, in charge of public relations. She represented Utah at a prestigious national journalism conference in Washington, D.C., last summer.

Both Rice and Larsen are also among the school’s 11 Sterling Scholar applicants who will be competing at the regional competition at USU Eastern in Price on March 5. Larsen is the school’s English candidate, while Rice is competing in the overall category of General Scholarship.

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