Who are the National Semi-Finalist and Commended Scholars?

And what advice do they have to share with Mentor students before they take the PSAT next week?


Jason Crowe

Mentor High School’s National Merit Semi-Finalists

Quinn Fuerst , Cardinal Nation contributor

This year Mentor High School has six National Merit Semi-Finalists and eight Commended Scholars as chosen by the College Board. Being a National Merit Semi-Finalists means you are in the top 99th percentile of all PSAT test takers in the nation, a test the building will be administering again next week on October 12 to all eligible students.

Those who obtain this honor are some of the brightest people in the nation, according to the PSAT. On top of that, National Merit Semi-Finalists can be eligible for thousands of dollars of scholarships, making college very affordable those fortunate enough to earn the title.

Cardinal Nation was able to speak to the five National Merit Semi-Finalsts at Mentor High School: Matthew Dawson, Manav Malik, Ethan Lee, Zeyad Mansour, and Ishani Zimmerman. I also interviewed those who are commended scholars at Mentor High School, which are those who score in the top 4% of all PSAT takers. Similar to National Merit Semi-Finalists, earning the lable of Commended Scholars opens up major scholarship opportunities. We spoke with some of them, including Emily Meckler, Amelia Wong, Caden Coleman, Andrew Freeman, Braden Lohrey, and Gianna Cesari.  

Mentor High School Commended Scholars (Jason Crowe)

Cardinal Nation: What are your plans after high school?

Matthew Dawson: I would like to go into music. I’m leaning towards oboe performance, but recently I’ve been considering music education more and more.

Manav Malik: I plan to receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science. After I graduate, I hope to pursue a career in cybersecurity or software.

Amelia Wong: After high school, I plan to go to a four-year university to further my education.

Caden Coleman: My plans after high school are to attend college and go on to medical school.

Andrew Freeman: After high school, I plan on attending college before commissioning as an officer in the US Army or Marine Corps.

Braden Lohrey: I’m planning to go to college and graduate with an undergrad in biomedical engineering and then go to medical school. I’m not sure where I’ll go from there.

Gianna Cesari: My plan after high school is to complete college, med school, and a psychiatry residency program in order to become a psychiatrist.

Emily Meckler: I plan to go to college and get my B.S. and, potentially, masters in forensic chemistry. I then want to work in a crime lab using these degrees.

Cardinal Nation: What is your top school?

Matthew Dawson: The Cleveland Institute of Music would be perfect. It’s got an internationally recognized program and I know I work well with the oboe instructors there. Additionally, they are hooked up with Case Western in case I want to take academic classes and it’s close to home, so I could see my family often, be even closer to my church, and I might be able to live off-campus to save some money. 

Manav Malik: I’m still looking around and it’ll depend on a lot of factors once I have decisions and more information from all the schools I apply to.

Amelia Wong: My top school at the moment is Case Western Reserve University.

Andrew Freeman: My top school is The United States Military Academy at West Point.

Braden Lohrey: Probably Mississippi State or Ohio State University

Gianna Cesari: My top school is the University of Pennsylvania.

Emily Meckler: West Virginia University.

Cardinal Nation: What are you involved with outside of school? 

Matthew Dawson: I take lessons on flute, oboe, and piano outside of school. This year, I am a drum major in the Fighting Cardinal Marching Band. I am also involved in the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, the Blizzard Youth Winds, and I sing in my church choir. I am a member of Mentor’s Refuge student-led Christian group and the Families in Christ Jesus youth group.

Manav Malik: I’m the concertmaster of the Mannheim Chamber Orchestra, the founder and president of the Computer Science Club, and an avid participant of Science Olympiad and Math League.

Amelia Wong: I am involved in the school’s Spanish Club. I enjoy spending time with my Golden Retriever outside of school.

Caden Coleman: Outside of school, I am co-captain of the Speech and Debate Team, a varsity swimmer, and a member of Mannheim Orchestra and Cardinal Quartet. I am also the founder and facilitator of the MHS Wellness Program.

Andrew Freeman: Outside of school, I’m involved in Model UN, Cardinal Nation, Speech and Debate, NHS, Boy Scouts, and Science Olympiad. I also play on the tennis team.

Braden Lohrey: I am in Science Olympiad, National Honors Society, I am a student at Lakeland Community College, and I helped found the Investing Club here at Mentor High School. I also am a member of the ski club.

Gianna Cesari: Outside of school, I’m involved in creative writing club and, for the first time, Science Olympiad. I also practice my hobbies often, which include writing, drawing, and learning stuff about computers.

Emily Meckler: I am a captain of the varsity football cheerleading squad and am a part of Science Olympiad, NHS, track and field, Girl Scouts, and youth group at my church. I also volunteer my time as a Science Olympiad coach for our middle school division.

Cardinal Nation: What has been your favorite thing about attending Mentor High School?

Matthew Dawson: Mentor puts a lot of effort into making sure that every student can find what they’re passionate about in some capacity at school. Some schools neglect extracurricular activities, especially the arts, but Mentor doesn’t.

Manav Malik: I’ve met some of my favorite people at Mentor High, and I’m really grateful for that.

Amelia Wong: Going into a supportive environment each day at Mentor High School has been a highlight for me.

Caden Coleman: My favorite part about Mentor High has been the wide range of courses and activities available to students. 

Andrew Freeman: My favorite thing about attending Mentor has been all the activities I’ve been involved in. MHS has a club for almost anything, and I’ve been able to do some really cool things through them.

Braden Lohrey: I like how comfortable it is here and I love meeting new people. There are plenty of challenging classes and programs to help students prepare for college.

Gianna Cesari: My favorite thing about attending Mentor High School has been the amount of different courses you can take. With the amount of courses that are offered to students, I have been able to investigate my interests throughout the years, and I think that that is the most important thing one can do in high school.

Emily Meckler: My favorite part about MHS is its large size as it comes with so many opportunities. I love being able to take a diverse course load and get involved in different extracurriculars throughout the year, it definitely has kept me busy!

Cardinal Nation: Who is your favorite teacher you have had at MHS?

Matthew Dawson: Honestly, it’s hard for me to pick. I’d say there are two teachers who really helped me in each of three aspects of high school. Mrs. Lowe and Mrs. Polin helped me to grow academically, Mr. Poremba and Mr. Landry helped me to grow musically, and Mr. Skilton and Mr. Steigerwald helped me to grow in my faith. That said, I’ve had very few teachers at MHS that I didn’t like.

Manav Malik: My favorite teacher has probably been either Ms. Richards or Ms. Lowe.

Amelia Wong: My favorite teacher at MHS is Señor Akin. He was my Spanish teacher for two years and he made learning a foreign language enjoyable and interesting.

Andrew Freeman: I’ve had a lot of phenomenal teachers at Mentor, and while I don’t think I have a favorite, Mr. Couch deserves to be mentioned. Not only have I had him as a teacher for government, but he’s also the Model UN and newspaper advisor, so he’s had to endure instructing me for four years (which I imagine is not an easy task). Mr. Couch also puts a lot of work into the clubs he advises, which has really shaped my experiences in them to be overwhelmingly positive.

Braden Lohrey: That’s a three-way tie between Mrs. Petrusko, Mr. Butterfield, and Mr. Butler. I wouldn’t be able to pick one.

Gianna Cesari: My favorite teacher(s) who I’ve had at MHS are probably Mr. Hogan and Ms. Roediger.

Emily Meckler: This is a very difficult question as I generally liked all of my teachers here at MHS. I think I would say Mrs. Valentic is still my favorite teacher to talk to. Though I had her as a freshman, our personalities have always meshed well together and it’s always great to catch up with her!

Cardinal Nation: What advice would you give to the underclassman? 

Matthew Dawson: I would reassure the underclassmen that they are loved by the people around them. God loves you, and he wants to put people in your life who will help you. Don’t hide what you’re going through from them. No matter what it is, they won’t stop loving you, and there are some things that you can’t overcome by yourself.

Manav Malik: Don’t fall into the trap of losing steam at the end of the year. I started to do that at the end of my junior year and almost failed some classes. Luckily, I managed to get back on track, but that might not always be the case.

Amelia Wong: Take academics seriously and remember that the work you put in now will benefit you in the long run. 

Caden Coleman: The advice I would give to a younger student is to take challenging courses and get involved. MHS seems like a big school, but getting involved in activities makes it feel smaller.

Andrew Freeman: If there’s any advice I could offer it would be to try to find something in life you really want to do, and then build your life around that thing. Getting through high school can be tough, and if you don’t have something motivating you, it can be easy to burn out or give up. If you have a clear image of why you’re pushing it makes it much easier, and sets you up for success after graduation.

Braden Lohrey: Don’t ever feel discouraged because you don’t understand something or are running out of time for an assignment. Take a deep breath and keep going at it until it’s done. And don’t get overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, take it one day at a time.

Gianna Cesari: The advice I would give to an underclassmen would be to take courses and find out what you like before college rolls around.

Emily Meckler: Get involved! Some of the best people I have met have been through clubs, sports, and other organizations!

Cardinal Nation: Was being a National Merit Semi-Finalists/Commended Scholar a goal of yours?

Matthew Dawson: Yes. I know that college costs these days are crazy, and while I’m prepared to work off as much debt as I need to, I’d rather not have to. I know that National Merit scholarships aren’t that much compared to tuition, but every little bit counts, and National Merit looks good on an application, so hopefully the schools will give me more money if I have that on my resumé.

Manav Malik: Sort of. It was certainly one of my goals, and I don’t think I would’ve defined a successful high school experience without it.

Amelia Wong: Commended Scholar was not a goal of mine.

Caden Coleman: Of course I hoped to do well on the PSAT, but I honestly didn’t realize that there were Commended Scholars; I had just heard of semi-finalists and finalists.

Andrew Freeman: It was not. I wasn’t even aware you could get commended status until I was told I had received it.

Braden Lohrey: I made it a goal to get any achievement from National Merit because I know how prestigious it is to colleges and I know how much it will help me in the future.

Gianna Cesari: Being a Commended Scholar was not a goal of mine; in fact, I had no idea that the award existed.

Emily Meckler: I would say so. I, of course, was shooting for semi-finalist/finalist, but am very happy to earn this honor.

Cardinal Nation: What was your reaction learning about this honor?

Matthew Dawson: I had kind of forgotten that it was a thing until the meeting where we heard about it. It had been so long since we took the NMSQT. I was glad to hear my test scores were good enough, but I also know that the real battle starts now. I’m particularly concerned with the essay that I have to write. I hope it’s good enough to get me a scholarship, but, either way, I’m grateful to have made it this far in the competition.

Manav Malik: Once I learned my selection index after I received my NMSQT score, I was very pleased with how I did and was sure of my semifinalist status. Because of this, it didn’t really come as a surprise later, but I was really excited anyway.

Amelia Wong: Prior to finding out I was a Commended Scholar, I knew what the award was though I did not expect that I would get it. I was surprised when I found out and grateful for the teachers who have helped me prepare for the PSAT which increased my chances of receiving this honor.

Caden Coleman: When I learned of the honor, I was both surprised and happy to hear that I had gotten it.

Andrew Freeman: I was pleasantly surprised. It was definitely cool to know I did so well on something.

Braden Lohrey: I was very surprised. I’m friends with most of the people who received a chance to be a finalist or semifinalist and I had no idea I had gotten anything because I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to on the qualifying PSAT.

Gianna Cesari: My reaction to learning of this honor was that of surprise. I didn’t know that the award existed, let alone expect that I would get it. However, I do feel lucky that I did get it even though I was never exactly proud of my PSAT score.

Emily Meckler: I had been keeping up with the news on National Merit, so I did know that I would be receiving this honor based on the cut-offs that had been released, but I didn’t know when I would know for sure so it was very exciting news! I immediately sent a photo to my mom!