Until yesterday, she and a guidance counselor at Smyrna High School had to keep the excitement of announcing the school's first National Merit Scholarship winner in "a really long time" to themselves.
Jose H. Cerritos Arevalo is believed to be the first at Smyrna in at least 10 years, probably longer.
"He's an amazing kid," said Southerland, who as principal of the school is naturally proud and happy for Arevalo "because you know the opportunities that come with it and, for him, this has opened another door."
Arevalo was one of 20 seniors from throughout Rutherford County to receive the recognition. Students from six of 10 county high schools — Central Magnet, 14; Blackman, 2; Rockvale, 1; Siegel, 1; Stewarts Creek, 1, and Smyrna, 1 — were named semifinalists by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
Arevalo, who was amazed and humbled, was in a Cambridge-level math class when Southerland gave him the news.
His sophomore English teacher was in the room when they told him. She told Southerland, she knew, as a sophomore, Arevalo was capable of becoming a National Merit semifinalist. However, beyond the individual accomplishment, his recognition goes a long way toward assuring his classmates that Smyrna has the academic programs for them to accomplish their goals if they put in the work.
It is possible.
National Merit Scholarship Corp. named approximately 16,000 semifinalists in the 66th annual scholarship program.
"These academically talented high school seniors have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $30 million that will be offered next spring," according to its news release, which explained, "To be considered for a Merit Scholarship award, semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. About 90 percent of the semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standing, and about half of the Finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar title."
Holden Stringfield was one of 14 semifinalists from Central.
He felt good about his chances after learning he had only missed one question on the qualifying test. But knowing he was named a semifinalist now provides him with "a lot of full-ride opportunities" for college, he said.
Springfield is interested in computer science and is now weighing the option of a top-tier education at either Princeton University or Cornell University versus a full-ride to somewhere like the University of Alabama.
"I'm trying to find a little bit of a middle ground," said Stringfield, who will not make a final decision until after he visits the campuses. "I like to think I have some pretty good options and I like where I stand in the whole process right now."
His positioning going forward is the result of hard work.
He planned his entire high school schedule as a freshman, which led him to pass on taking a study hall period as a sophomore and save it for the following year. At Central, junior year is notoriously the most challenging given the number of Advanced Placement courses students take that year.
When he combines his grade point average with his extracurricular activities and late nights spent sitting up studying, he was surprised and, yet, Stringfield concluded, "It's surprising, but I'm so happy that I've gone through and done all the work to get to this point"
The following is a complete list of semifinalists from Rutherford County:
Jose H. Cerritos Arevalo
Katelyn M. Carr