Class of 2022 Boasts Three National Merit Semifinalists and Six Commended Scholars


This year, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation recognized three National Merit Semifinalists and six Commended Scholars from Benjamin. Nearly 10% of the class of 2022 was represented.

Evan Liberman, Managing Editor

On Sept. 15, the School announced three seniors–Gerald Bissell, Joey Slyh, and Grady Wolf–as National Merit Semifinalists in this year’s National Merit Scholarship Program. The Pharcyde spoke to all three to better understand how they came to be semifinalists and what advice they have gleaned from the process 

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition based on students’ junior year PSAT scores that can culminate in various scholarships. If they score in the top one percent of the roughly 1.5 million students who take the PSAT (the number may have been lower due to COVID-19), students are invited to continue on in the competition as semifinalists. This select group of roughly 16,000 then completes an application to become National Merit Finalists. From there, about 2,500 officially become National Merit Scholars. 

However, for two out of three of Benjamin’s semifinalists, the competition was on their minds far before they sat down to take the PSAT in their advisories. 

“I started practicing in late summer, either in late July or early August. A lot of my preparation dealt with taking old practice PSATs and old SATs when I ran out of PSATs. I worked on a lot of those practice questions,” said Bissell. “It was pretty structured. Every week I would meet with a tutor… and I would work on a set number of practice questions every week,” he added.

Slyh also began preparing far in advance, attending English teacher Dr. John Peruggia’s annual PSAT prep course. The course is offered to juniors whose performance on the sophomore PSAT and whose grades suggest to the College Counseling Department that they would be strong candidates for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Doing so allowed him to study for the PSAT intensively for about two months. Slyh says that much of his work in the PSAT-prep class consisted of doing practice questions and learning how to dissect them to find the right answer.

Reflecting on his class, Dr. Peruggia said: “Joey and his peers focused on test-taking strategies and practicing with those questions that are traditionally thought of as most challenging on the PSAT. My hope is that the class left them feeling confident and comfortable with the idea of their own success.”

On the other hand, Wolf began in late September, just two weeks before the test, and his studying consisted of merely “reviewing some vocabulary and grammar rules.” 

Despite varying degrees of preparation, all three seniors have come out of the initial stages of the National Merit Scholarship program with valuable lessons for future test takers who are looking to move on in the competition.  

For instance, Bissell recommends that students work on official practice questions provided by the College Board (the parent company of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation). He also urged students to have a structured study schedule because he feels that it’s easy to slip and start making excuses.

Though he encourages students to do their best on the PSAT and to study if they so choose, Wolf also emphasizes the importance of relaxing and taking a breather. “I would [tell people] not to stress. At the end of the day, it doesn’t mean as much as some say it does. Move efficiently through the test because of its length. Don’t get caught up on any particular question and you will be just fine,” he stated.

Finally, Slyh is a proponent of one of the simplest (and probably most enjoyable!) actions students can take to prepare for the PSAT: sleep. “As cliche as it sounds, sleep really is paramount to being able to properly focus for the whole length of the test,” he explained.

Bissell, Slyh, and Wolf join a well-heeled group of 12 other National Merit Semifinalists from Benjamin over the last five years, according to College Counseling Registrar Mrs. Adria Carr. 

There were also six other seniors who were designated Commended Scholars, who were in the top 3% of all PSAT test-takers last year. These students are: Jack Horgen, Danielle Lancaster, Evan Liberman, Kiley Malmberg, Ryan Riutta, and Camilo Saiz.

Commenting on both the semifinalists and commended scholars, Head of Upper School Mr. Fletcher Carr said: “Certainly the School is proud of all of these students… I think that I am more proud, as I am of all of our students, however, of the fact that these students’ non-academic contributions to school life are just as impressive, confirming The Benjamin School’s mission of developing all parts of a student’s preparation.