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Early College student named National Merit finalist

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By Stacey Manning, Managing Editor

Alice White’s dreams of studying pharmacology at a major state university are a step closer to reality.

White, a student at Brunswick County Early College High School (BCECHS), was recently named a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

As a finalist, White will compete against 15,000 students nationwide for a chance to win one of 8,300 National Merit Scholarships. There are more than $34 million worth of scholarships available for National Merit finalists.

White’s journey as a finalist is several years in the making. White qualified for National Merit consideration as a junior after taking the PSAT. Some 1.5 million juniors representing 22,000 high schools throughout the country took the PSAT, the initial screening process for National Merit contenders.

From 1.5 million students, the field was narrowed down to about 16,000 semifinalists. White was named a semifinalist in September 2011.

“I was kind of expecting it,” the soft-spoken White said. White had talked with Secanda Seifred, BCECHS counselor. With a PSAT score of 216 out of a maximum of 240, school officials believed White had a good shot at the honor.

After being named a semifinalist, White had to complete an application, get a letter of recommendation from BCECHS principal Vicky Snyder and write an essay about overcoming adversity.

Last week, as White and other students met in their accountability class after lunch, Snyder and Seifred appeared and asked White to come to the front of the class. There, the National Merit finalist announcement was made.

“It was a little bit of a surprise,” White said. “I was really excited.”

As a finalist, White, who wants to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall, will compete for three types of National Merit scholarships. Every finalist has a chance to win one of 2,500 National Merit Scholarships worth $2,500. Those scholarships are awarded on a state basis.

There are another 1,000 corporate-sponsored scholarships made available by about 240 corporations and businesses. An additional 200 scholarships come from colleges and universities for students who attend those institutions.

Last year Jaime Maxwell from BCECHS was named a National Merit finalist.

“Brunswick Early College High is proud to have our second National Merit Scholarship finalist,” Seifred said. “It is a great honor to have the opportunity to work with Alice. Alice has excelled as a student while taking the most difficult courses offered at Brunswick Early College High School and Brunswick Community College. Alice has been instrumental in success in our Science and Math Olympiads.”

Announcements of specific 2012 National Merit scholarship awards are expected between April and June.

“Being named a National Merit Scholar is a very prestigious academic honor, placing the student in the top 1 percent nationally,” said Edward Pruden, Brunswick County Schools Superintendent. “Nobody is born that smart. A great deal of hard work goes into such an achievement.”

White’s mother, Linda Cheers, couldn’t contain her excitement when she heard the news.

“I think she was more excited than me,” White laughed.

“She has worked so hard. She is the smartest person I know for sure,” Cheers said. “I am very proud of her.”

The journey

White is a fifth-year student at BCECHS on the campus of Brunswick Community College. At graduation ceremonies this summer, White will be awarded a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in arts and science.

White, a native of Brunswick County, was a student at West Brunswick High School, but transferred into the early college program because of the smaller classes and individualized attention.

“Our freshman class at West was bigger than all of Early College,” White said. “It’s a lot easier to talk to teachers.”

In the academic environment at BCECHS, where physics and music theory are among White’s favorite courses, White flourished and currently has a grade point average of 3.67. White has scored a 2210 on the SAT out of a possible 2400.

But White says early college’s smaller, more personalized environment helped with more than just academic success. A typical teen who loves music and plays a gamut of instruments—from the drums, guitar, bass, piano, cello and sitar—White has also found the courage to live openly as a transgender teen.

Born a male, White now lives as a female and last year when she turned 18, she legally changed her name to Alice.

“She is the most courageous person I know,” Cheers said. “No matter what’s going on, her academics have always been her main focus.”

Cheers said White is the person she admires most, an admission that caused the shy teen to blush and cover her face.

“With everything she has overcome,” Cheers started to say, then paused as tears began to form. “With everything she has overcome, to keep her focus, she amazes me every day.”

White’s father, Darrell Cheers, is also proud of White’s achievements. “I am very proud of him,” Darrell Cheers said. “It is rewarding as a parent, to see your child receive recognition for his academic ability. He is a great person and there is no limit to what he can accomplish. Every day with him is a blessing.”

As for what’s next, White is looking forward to going to college and pursuing a doctor of pharmacy degree. White hopes to someday move to a larger city and maybe be involved in the creation and development of future medications.