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National Merit semifinalists named: MHS leads the state in students vying for the academic honor

Eighteen area high school seniors are in elite academic company today.

They were named semifinalists for the 2024 National Merit Scholarships program, the organization announced.

The nominees will now join around 16,000 of their counterparts across the country. More than 7,000 scholarships are awarded yearly.

Morgantown High School notched the most nominees in West Virginia with 14; University High boasted 2; and one apiece at Preston High and Grafton were also named.

Across the state, one home-schooler from Martinsburg was also named. No charter school students from the Mountain State qualified for the academic award this year.  

The semifinalists:

Morgantown High

Colin Addie

Matthew Bellisario

Pratham Bhanushali,

Marcus Hatfield

Olivia Johnson

Wyatt Kozel

Shawn Li

Douglas Liu

Cainen Pinkerton

Sawyer Rudy

Lauren Shen

Steven Tian

Katherine Wang

Grace Yan

University High

Helen Honecker

Andrew Kisner

Preston High

Margot Cerbone

Grafton High

Justin Gainer

The above are part of the 63 total seniors across the state who earned their way to the honor.

Thirty-one high schools were represented, along with five home-schoolers, including the Mon County contingent.

George Washington High in Charleston and Ona’s Cabell-Midland High each boasted five candidates apiece, to tie for second behind Morgantown High.

Nationally, the semifinalists make up less than 1% of all seniors in the U.S., the organization said.

After the finalists are named in February, they’ll vie for $28 million in scholarships.

The National Merit Scholarship program was born of the Cold War in 1955, over concerns the U.S. was lagging intellectually in the world.

Its goals, the organization said, were to encourage young students to develop their full academic and professional potential.

After passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the program expanded with its National Achievement Scholarship Program for high-achieving Black students.

Scholarships from the nonprofit organization are underwritten with its own funds and 400 supporting businesses nationwide.

More than 350,000 have earned the Merit Scholar title since 1955. Past National Merit finalists, meanwhile, include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, blues guitarist Elvin Bishop and filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan.

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