Student named National Merit Scholar semifinalist


Superintendent Dr. Matt Dillon always says his favorite part of every meeting of the Petal School District Board of Trustees is the time for recognition,  when students, faculty and staff are brought before the board and commended for their achievement and accolades.

On Tuesday, Dr. Dillon, Petal High School Principal Rob Knight and the school board recognized Lora “Gracie” Holman for being named a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist.

Holman, a senior at Petal High School, holds a 4.25 GPA and a score of 32 on the ACT.

“We have a lot of bright students in our district, and tonight we are recognizing one of our brightest at Petal High School,” Dr. Dillon said.

Knight presented Holman with a Top Panther Award for her achievement. In addition to her outstanding academic success, Knight said Holman has also been involved in many extracurricular activities as well.

“She has been involved with community theatre for big part of her life,” Knight said. “She credits that for much of her growth and helping her not be so shy.”

Holman is a member of the speech and debate team, Beta Club and French Club. She is also a talented musician, playing piano in her spare time.

After graduation, Holman plans to pursue a career in the medical field or biomedical research.

“We know that all those things are open to her, so we just want to honor her and recognize her,” Knight said.

To participate in the National Merit Scholar program, students in the 9th, 10th and 11th grades have the opportunity to take the PSAT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying test).

The score from 11th grade attempt is submitted for review, and the highest scores are filtered out. About 15,000 of those who score the highest will be selected and recognized as National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists.

Now that Holman has been selected as a semifinalist, Holman will submit an application to be named a finalist. If selected as a finalist, the students will have the to opportunity to receive numerous scholarships for college.

The high school seniors who were named semifinalists like Holman, will have the opportunity to continue to compete for 7,500 National Merit Scholarships that will be offered in the spring, which total approximately $33 million.

Many requirements must be fulfilled to be considered for one of these scholarships and advance to the finalist level. Approximately 90 percent of semifinalists could make it to the finalist level, and half of those will win a National Merit Scholarship.

According to NMSC, the organization is a non-profit that operates without government assistance and was established in 1955.

The program honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies. The program does not measure the quality or effectiveness of education within a school, system, or state. For more information about the competition, please visit NMSC’s website at

Approximately 1.6 million juniors from more than 22,000 high schools across the nation entered the 2017 National Merit Scholarship Program. According to NMSC, the nationwide pool of semifinalists represents less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors and includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state.

A semifinalist must submit a scholarship application, which details their academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment, and honors and awards received.

An academic record throughout high school, recommendations from high school officials, an essay and SAT scores that reflect the qualifying test’s score are required to be considered for the finalist level.

Students will find out if they qualified to become a finalist in February, and scholarship winners will be selected from this group. More than 323,000 students in previous years have earned the Merit Scholar title.