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Student Experience: How I Became a Risk-Taker (and a National Merit Finalist Along the Way)

7 months ago
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The first time I heard of Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls, I thought the name was — quite frankly — a little ridiculous.

But the first time I went to Little Flower’s Open House and met the faculty, I fell in love with the school.

And now, as I prepare to take my first steps out of high school as a National Merit Finalist, I am incredibly grateful for the ways Little Flower has empowered me — not only to excel academically, but to take risks and challenge myself personally.

One of the first things I noticed about Little Flower is that the teachers go above and beyond the curriculum to welcome and prepare students for a lifetime of learning. My sister and I were both reluctant to attend that first Open House event (again, the name). But by the end of the night, we were impressed that administrators took care to remember our names. After meeting the teachers, we were struck by how excited we felt by the prospect of learning in their classrooms.

That same vigor carries over to how teachers approach the PSAT, which determines National Merit Scholarship standing. In the months leading up to the exam, my math teachers provided plenty of practice problems both in and outside the classroom to familiarize us with the test format. In English classes, we completed practice activities that focused on tested areas like reading comprehension and vocabulary.

I felt more than prepared when I finally took the PSAT my junior year. But I was still surprised to learn I was a National Merit semifinalist. That meant I had scored within the top one percent of the 1.6 million students who took the PSAT.

To become a finalist, I needed to submit an application that required, among other items, examples of leadership abilities, academic accomplishment, and participation in school and community activities.

That is an area where I feel Little Flower truly helped me become the current me. I’ve kept a busy workload over the past four years, taking mostly honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes while participating in lacrosse, hockey, orchestra, National Honor Society, and several other clubs. But Little Flower also provided the opportunities — and the support — for me to try new, unfamiliar activities.

Before Little Flower, I was terrified at even the thought of performing in front of others. But then I auditioned for the school musical — and ended up taking lead roles for the next three years. And last year, a friend and I realized Little Flower didn’t have a school marching band. So we took the plunge and started our own. Though we lacked experience, the school community recognized our effort, and we were invited to perform at several events.

That courage to venture outside my comfort zone bloomed from Little Flower’s close sense of community. I can always count on my freshman English teacher to say hello and ask how my college search is going. When I’m having a rough day, I know my AP Calculus teacher will notice and ask if I’m okay. And when I see my AP Government and US History teacher in the hallway, I know he’ll crack a joke that will have me laughing for the rest of the day.

In May, the National Merit Scholarship Program will announce which of us 15,000 National Merit finalists will become scholarship recipients. But regardless of the outcome, I am already brimming with gratitude at everything I’ve learned during my time at Little Flower. And I am excited to channel my confidence into a new world of risks and challenges — however ridiculous, at first glance, they may seem.