By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Recent Dassel-Cokato High School graduate Sara Cronk of Dassel has been named a National Merit Scholar, a title given to recognize and honor academically talented students across the US.
Every year, about 16,000 high school seniors equating to less than 1 percent nationwide are designated semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Of these, 15,000 go on to be finalists, and about half of them achieve one of the three scholar recognitions: corporate-sponsored, National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC)-sponsored, or college-sponsored.
Sara received the latter recognition, which means she was personally selected by her first-choice college, Gustavus Adolphus College, to become an official National Merit Scholar.
When she found out, however, Sara said she was confused, at first.
“Gustavus had told me about the Peterson scholarship, which I knew was linked with National Merit finalist status,” she explained. “When I got the letter from the National Merit organization, it listed a different amount for the scholarship and used the term ‘Merit Scholar.’ Once I realized what that meant, I was so excited. It’s a real honor.”
Although it took her a bit to realize she had been selected for this recognition, Sara said she was not unfamilar with the NMSC, as her mother had been a finalist in the 1980s.
“Because of that, it was something I’d wanted for a long time, and to have that become reality was amazing,” she said.
Throughout the application process, the applicants were asked to take the PSAT (and later the SAT), and submit an essay, a letter of recommendation, grades, and a list of activities and achievements.
For Sara, her list of high school activities included speech, the fall musical and spring play, chamber choir, math league, the National Honor Society, student council, area community theatres (including DC, Buffalo, and FungusAmongus), piano, and marching band.
When it comes to staying on top of school work while also putting one’s all into other committments, Sara said knowing how to balance and prioitize at specific times of the day is key.
“I would do my calculus homework backstage at rehearsal for the spring play, and during tech week of the musical, when we had rehearsal all evening, I would have to be focused during the school day and get any schoolwork done that I needed to then.” she elaborated.
“I definitely had a lot less downtime whenever I was in activities, but I love it all so much that it was all worth it.”
Of course, it is difficult to be motivated to do anything, let alone multiple activities, if one does not care for it. Fortunately for Sara, this isn’t something she has had to deal with too much, which she identifies as being a driving force in her ability to stay motivated.
“I love everything I do, and I want to do it,” she commented. “I’ve always been intrinsically motivated, but, of course, it’s immensely rewarding to be recognized.”
“Sara works really hard, and she’s extremely motivated,” her mother, Beth, stated. “She has been like that since she was little.”
Even though Sara has a knack for learning things rather quickly, Beth said she doesn’t seem to take success for granted, and is always putting in the necessary work.
Through her own observations, Beth attributes Sara’s high test scores to her being an active reader, writing for fun, and challenging herself in her math classes and math league.
“I think her musical and other fine arts activities through the years were positive factors, too,” she added.
In having earned her high school diploma earlier this month, Sara is now preparing to put her National Merit Scholar status to use at Gustavus this fall.
Her current plans are to pursue a major in chemistry, continue her education through a graduate program, and eventually join the world of research.
She also hopes to write and publish fiction novels on the side, while continuing to perform in community theatre.
For those interested in becoming a National Merit Scholar, or just pursuing personal achievement in general, Sara advises taking the PSAT “It’s the only way to become a National Merit Scholar,” she said and to never stop challenging oneself.
“My advice is to always push yourself to improve and work harder, no matter how good you think you are at something,” she said. “There’s always room for imporvement, but also enjoy yourself along the way.”