Seniors Derek Snyder, of Cleveland High School, and Eric Wolf, of McCallie School in Chattanooga, were chosen because of their high PSAT scores.
“I didn’t really know anything about the scholarship. I just thought we were taking the PSATs in preparation for the SATs,” Snyder said. “I guess you could say I did not have any concept of what was at stake.”
Reports from the College Board showed 1,557,056 juniors who took the PSAT in 2011. Less than a quarter of high school juniors were selected as semifinalists. Both boys could receive one of the 8,300 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $32 million to be awarded in spring 2013. Finalists will be chosen based on their SAT scores.
Both seniors hold high dreams for college and their future careers. Wolf took several weeks over the summer to visit the service academies. Right now his choice is between the Naval or Military academies.
“There is a need for it [serving the country]. They need the best people possible and the thing about the academies is they are totally dedicated to cranking out the best officers they can in every aspect: leadership, education, and even the physical aspect. ... It is definitely different from any other college experience.”
Wolf admits he may have a tendency to romanticize the military. He is attempting to keep a clear picture of life in service.
“There are so many great stories and people who come from the military,” Wolf said. “It is an organization where you have to work together or you will literally die. You cannot be an individual. You have to connect with the people around you.”
Service is a core part of Wolf’s daily life. As president of Keo Kyo, a senior leadership club at McCallie, he wants to look outside their immediate community.
“I like to think how we are blessed as McCallie students means we should in turn give back. I felt like that is Keo Kyo’s mission this year,” Wolf said.
Global warming has shifted Snyder’s focus to a need in the world as a whole. His interests lie in engineering and utilizing skills learned to create a better tomorrow.
“Pretty much the only people who really get it are those I have known for a while, but I’m just big into the whole ‘changing the world’ kind of thing,” Snyder said.
A friend’s father once told Snyder the only way electric cars would ever be in demand is if it could push a person backward in their seat while accelerating.
“OK, so there is the goal. To make an electric car that kicks butt. That is how they are going to sell them,” Snyder said before launching into a discussion on possible energy sources.
Attending MIT is a part of his plan to create a difference. Snyder can make a change through any institution, but would prefer to do so under the bright minds at his dream college.
“Sometimes you set a goal and it is there so long all the reasons ‘why’ become obscure, you know? It’s just accomplishing that goal purely for the emotional satisfaction,” Snyder said. “MIT has kind of reached that level. I just have to do it because it has been my goal forever.”
Wolf remembers historical battles and generals the way Snyder rattles off alternative energy sources. Recent movies, books, and dreams have taken place on the battlefields of Normandy, Yorktown and Gettysburg.
“Recently, that is pretty much all that I have been reading — especially from the Civil War Era. First of all, a lot of this area was affected by it,” Wolf said. “There are so many great stories from the Civil War. It eventually brought the nation together, but it had to tear us apart first.”
The Civil War continually interests Wolf.
“There is no part of the Civil War that you can take and say this alone is interesting, because you need to understand the whole story,” Wolf said. “There are a lot of shifts in leaderships and the arm[ies] reacted to those changes differently. ... If the commanders did not show faith in their men then their men would not show faith in their commanders.”
Football at McCallie currently serves as Wolf’s battlefield, with his coach as commander.
“Coach Potter is back this year and he is a great coach — really intense. He is really dedicated to helping us grow as men and making us tough individuals and bringing us together as a team,” Wolf said. “I love going out and playing for him. I enjoy competing in pretty much anything.”
Mad scientists are more Snyder’s cup of tea. He enjoys the autobiographical writings of Richard Feynman, a past MIT professor. Concrete numbers, facts, and experiments interest Snyder. He has spent many hours watching the destruction of global warming on TV.
“Hurricanes happen. They will whether or not the earth is getting hotter or whatever,” Snyder said. “... but the worse global warming gets, the more ice caps melt and the more sea levels rise. It just upsets the whole balance. It is a serious issue someone needs to fix and if other people do not then I will.”
Between hours at work and running cross country and track, Snyder tries to make a difference any way he can.
“I really enjoy environmental club. Unfortunately, all the meetings are on Fridays and I work Fridays,” Snyder said. “On the Friday meetings we just recycle. We take care of the bins around school. A couple of times a year we have cleanups [around the community].”
Snyder and Wolf have one more year of high school before attending college. Their SAT scores will determine whether or not they are one of 8,000 students to become National Merit Finalists.