By Sharon McIntire “A triangle is the strongest shape in geometry. The triangle of any shape can always represent strength.” Three seniors at Carlsbad High School can argue that this definition from Wikipedia applies to students as well as it applies to structures. Hannah Kim, Jaden Hicks, and Davis Dugan have known each other, and competed with each other, since sixth grade. While the competition could have gotten pretty ugly, the opposite has been true. That triangle has supported and balanced the weight and stress each of them have experienced at various times in their journey to the top. As a result, CHS principal Jesse Fuentes is able to boast that the school has three Semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Carlsbad has had this honor before, but never with this many students. More than 1.5 million students in approximately 21,000 high schools entered the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program. Carlsbad’s three seniors were among 16,000 Semifinalists chosen based on PSAT scores. They are among the highest scoring entrants from each state and represent less than 1 percent of each state's high school seniors. “Obviously it’s an honor to have three,” Fuentes boasts. “Having one finalist is an honor but having three is like unheard of. I'm extremely proud of them because it is their effort they've put in on a daily basis. They are workhorses when it comes to the academics. ”Their counsellor, Ty Ballard, says getting the high score on the PSAT is just the beginning. “The score qualifies them,” she says. “Then it’s up to them to continue the process with the application.” Included in the application is a required essay and a recommendation from a high-ranking high school official, as well as a list of their extra-curricular activities, transcripts, volunteer service, leadership positions, honors or awards, and any employment. All this while maintaining those exemplary grades during a pandemic will require the encouragement of that triangle, but all three agree that their parents and someday dictated teachers have been the backbone of their success. Davis credits his dad for the push, and his mom for the support. “My dad definitely pushed me to be the best person I could be and taught me lessons along the way like being humble and realizing I am who I’m meant to be.” And, while Dad pushed him toward excellence, Mom was always there to lean on. “My mom is more of the ‘I’ll love you no matter what’ and my dad’s like ‘Hey, if you don’t get an A, I’m taking your car away’. So, my dad pushes me more, and my mom is there for me no matter what.”
Hannah credits her history as well as her family for pushing her to excel. “My parents are actually immigrants from South Korea and Korea’s education system is (very competitive) –it's more like hard core. Because of that I grew up solving math problems at my house because my dad made me, and they just kept pushing me and encouraging me to do better. ”But she also gives credit to her classmate, Jaden. “Since sixth grade, and for the entire time up until now, we’ve always competed at whatever. I used to play piano, so we'd compete at piano competitions. And then in school we took all the same classes and we’d always be on the top and so we’d compete for grades. That’s how it’s been until now.” Jaden agrees. “Me and Hannah have always been friendly competitors. I remember in sixth grade Hannah took an advanced math class and I learned about it and basically her taking the class is the sole reason I took it. We’ve always been like that. ”“The competition between them is very unique,” Ballard states. “They have very positive influences also, but they’re very driven just amongst themselves.” And just like Hannah and Davis, Jaden credits his parents for pushing him to work hard. “They always put a heavy emphasis on doing your schoolwork and doing it on time, so they sort of instilled in me a drive that I’ve had since elementary school just to do my best. ”All have had teachers who have contributed to their success. “I was in MESA in middle school,” Hannah recalls, “so I would always be hanging around in Mrs. Olivas’ room and going on trips and stuff with her. So, I’d have a lot of time to talk with her. She just encouraged me; she was a good teacher. ”“I’ve had a lot of good teachers,” Jaden states. “I specifically remember Mrs. Rose in sixth grade science. Now two of my favorite teachers have been Mr. Cope and Mrs. Dralle; they’ve both inspired me. ”Tessa Bradley made perhaps the biggest impression on Davis during his sophomore year. “She doesn’t work here anymore, but I was at a pretty low point in my life, and she noticed something that I did and appreciated me for it. Now even to this day we still keep in touch. She’s planning on coming back down here and walking me down the stage at graduation. We’ve stayed really close. She was the first teacher I truly had that I felt was there for me. ”Davis and Jaden both plan to attend Texas Tech. Davis plans to major in biochemistry and possibly become a pediatric surgeon. “I really want to be able to
make a differencing the world and I feel like that’s the best way I can do it. I love kids, I love science, and I just want to make a difference. Jaden is still weighing his options. He plans to take pre-med prerequisites (“so Davis and I will probably be in the same classes the whole time I’m there”). In addition to the medical field, he’s also considering chemical engineering and computer science. “Right now, I’m leaning toward computer science, but I want to keep my options open. “I’m bad at making decisions,” he laments. “After graduate school I might go into seminary and become a pastor because I’ve always had an inclination towards that and I feel that’s one of the most direct ways to make an influence, not only in this world, but in the next. ”Hannah may break the triangle by heading east to an Ivy League college and, if accepted, won’t receive the scholarships her friends will enjoy. The acceptance into these Ivy League universities is an honor,” her counsellor is quick to point out. “Even though there’s no money attached to it, just being accepted is an honor -just to get your foot in the door. ”One leg of the triangle is quick to offer support. “Even if the college doesn’t give a scholarship,” Davis notes encouragingly, “you can still be selected for the $2,500 scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, and then they also have a bunch of different scholarships that go through the corporation, too. ”The other leg of the triangle agrees. “There’s lots of different options for scholarships once you become a finalist,” Jaden says. Hannah is still waiting to hear from the colleges where she has applied. Like her classmates, she also plans to major in biochemistry and is considering being a doctor, or possibly getting a graduate degree in biomedical science and working at the National Institute of Health. “If I don’t become a doctor, I’d like to research diseases and stuff; like my dad has diabetes, so I’d like to research more into diabetes. ”Her goal? “I love to read. Like before I even entered school, I loved reading. I have a lot of books at my house –I need more bookshelves. I’d like to live in a nice house in a big city and have lots of bookshelves with a lot of books and own a cat.” In case you get the impression that her ambitions are humble, she concludes, “When I retire, I could be a professor at a college. ”All three have sage advice for students heading to high school.
“Not giving up is worth it,” Davis says. “Whether it’s school, or your home life, or life in general, it’s worth it: just keep going. ”Hannah agrees. “Sometimes in school I’d be struggling. Just keep going. Ultimately there’s going to be good times. Even though you’re in bad times right now, you’re going to go to good times –just let the flow take you there. ”And Jaden adds, “It's a good thing to know what you want to do, but you don’t have to know. Just keep applying yourself and really look into who you are. There’s a lot of those considerations about how much money you’re going to make and respect in society, but at the end of the day it’s about who you are and what you want to be and what you want to accomplish in your life. That would be my advice: look inside. ”Wise words from teenagers. Principal Fuentes sums up the feelings of those who have been fortunate enough to share and strengthen this triangle. “I look forward to seeing that they’re going to give back. And I’m proud to know that they came from right here. ”group of 6:Back row l-r: Stacy Chiri, 12th grade principal, Jesse Fuentes, principal, Ty Ballard, counsellor Front row: l-r: Davis Dugan, Hannah Kim, Jaden Hicks group of 3:l-r: Davis Dugan, Hannah Kim, Jaden Hicks