Each year, approximately 1.5 million United States students participate in the National Merit Scholarship (NMSC) program. The program began in 1955 as a national completion to identify and honor academically talented U.S. high school students, including those studying internationally. In early September 2011, 16,000 students, just 1% of applicants, were notified that they qualified as National Merit Semifinalists, including three WAB High School students - Herman Chau, Michael Li, and Franklyn Zhu - a remarkable academic showing from any single high school. Roughly half of all Semifinalists go on to receive scholarship awards.

Winners of Merit Scholarship awards are then chosen based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments. A variety of information is available for NMSC selectors to evaluate: the student's academic record, information about their school's curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, the high school official's written recommendation, information about the student's activities and leadership, and the applicant's own essay. Only about 8,000 Scholarships are awarded each year to 0.5% of the initial applicant pool.

This April, WAB Grade 12 student Franklyn Zhu learned that he is among those very select few to win a National Merit Scholarship. And this great news nearly didn't arrive. "It was quite a peculiar event," Franklyn discloses. "One morning during Spring Break, I received an email saying that I had MISSED the deadline for accepting the award. I didn't even know that I had received the award! Apparently they had mailed a letter to me one month ago, which I had not received. I think it might have been lost in the mail."

There are three types of NMSC awards: $2,500 National Merit Scholarships, Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards, and College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards. Franklyn received a $2,000 per year corporate-sponsored award to go towards college undergraduate tuition. Franklyn has already received acceptance letters to several universities, including Yale, which will likely be his final choice, its opera program being a deciding factor. He would like to study history, philosophy, or psychology. And anyone who knows Franklyn knows that music, of course, will also always be part of his life. Whichever college Franklyn ultimately decides to attend and whatever course of study he elects, his NMSC scholarship will lend support to the next phase of his education. "I feel very fortunate to have received this award," he says. "A large part of it was luck, but I also put in a lot of hard work."

Franklin's academic records reviewed by NMSC included, among other things, his PSAT and SAT scores, his semester grades, written recommendations, and an essay about himself. "Sort of like a common-app college essay," Franklyn explains. "I wrote about my role as Art Director of the Inkblot, our student founded magazine. I talked about a few lessons I learned from that experience. I think that my academics qualified me for the award, but it was my essay that made me win it."

I asked Franklyn, "How do you think WAB influenced, if it did, your academic goals and successes in school, thus far?" To which he eloquently responded, "I've been at WAB my entire life; WAB is part of me! I cannot describe it in any other way. It was in this caring, supportive environment that I discovered my passions, set my goals, and reached for my dreams. WAB is a place where people are competitive in a friendly and mutually beneficial way, where respect is not contingent upon your achievements and grades. It's a place where, if you have dreams and aspirations, you will find the ardent support of the entire community. But there is so much more beyond academic success... music, for instance! Life is very interesting indeed."

"Any advise," I wondered, "for fellow WAB students following their own dreams and hoping for success?" Franklyn Zhou"s scholarly advise: "Work hard, work smart, but don't forget to have fun, okay?"