Three JA Seniors Recognized as National Merit Semifinalists

September 15, 2020 / News Releases/Upper School/All News

Jackson Academy is proud to recognize three 2021 National Merit Semifinalists. Seniors Zoe Ladner of Jackson, Isabelle Lee of Brandon, and Priya Ray of Brandon are among approximately 16,000 Semifinalists in the 66th annual National Merit Scholarship Program, officials of National Merit Scholarship Corporation announced last week. These academically talented students now have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $30 million that will be offered next spring.

Zoe Ladner

National Merit Semifinalist Zoe Ladner has earned membership, recognition, and scholarships for her academic and community engagement. Still, it is a connection to her community that animates her pursuit of understanding and excellence. Dee Ball, who taught Zoe AP US History and AP American Government, praised her discipline and consistency. “These courses require independent study, critical thinking skills, and are writing intensive,” said Ball. “She has met these challenges with a consistent effort, a smile on her face, and top grades in class!” Upper School Science Teacher Sarah Shaw noted Zoe’s intelligence and leadership quality. “Zoe is relatively quiet in class, but she absorbs everything,” Shaw said. “She is an active group participant, often humbly leading through example!”

Zoe’s track record as an outstanding student is undeniable, but when we asked her which of her accomplishments meant the most to her, she didn’t list her academic awards. Instead, she told us about the relationships she cherishes and the extracurricular activities that fill each of her days with opportunities to connect.

Q. What motivated you to excel throughout high school? Which of your accomplishments has meant the most to you?

“From a young age, my parents always encouraged me to give my best at everything I do, and that mentality and work ethic stuck with me throughout high school. The accomplishment I’m most proud of is having many friendships and connections to different groups on campus. I have been involved in the arts, athletics, and academic groups on campus, which has given me so many great and diverse relationships.”

Q. Which of your extracurricular activities are you most passionate about?

“One of my favorite extracurriculars is being a JA Accent. I have loved dance since I was little and it is a great way to show school spirit and support the Raiders. Also, having little kids look up to you is so special and meaningful.”

Q. Looking back on your high school experiences, what advice would you give to incoming high school freshmen?

“I would tell freshmen to really take advantage of the amazing opportunities high school presents. Appreciate and accept your classmates and their talents. Get involved in whatever you can, whether joining a team or club or simply just attending a game or play.”

Q. What does it mean to you to win this award?

“This award is an amazing validation of all of my hard work throughout high school. More than that, it represents the amazing teachers and people at JA who have helped and encouraged me to always strive for the best.”

Zoe’s academic awards and community service include, but are not limited to; Bausch + Lomb Honorary Science Award; Scott Branning Scholarship; Glenn Cain Scholarship; Member, Cum Laude; Mu Alpha Theta; Rho Kappa; National Science Honors Society; National English Honors Society; National Honors Society; Girl Scout Bronze and Silver Award for involvement at Community Place Nursing Home and MS Children’s Home.

Isabelle Lee

“Isabelle is an exceptional person not only in intelligence but also in character,” Director of Choral Music Amy Whittenton said when asked to describe JA’s second National Merit Semifinalist for 2021. “She is one of the kindest and most positive students I have had the pleasure of teaching.” Friendly and self-possessed, Isabelle handled a challenging course load and busy extracurricular schedule throughout high school. “Isabelle is one of the most academically gifted and well-rounded students I have been blessed to teach,” Upper School Chemistry Teacher Richard West said. “[She] goes the extra mile in her classes, she doesn’t just want to know how something works, but she also wants to know why. Her work ethic is off the chain, and it is consistent. … I truly believe she will do great things in her future endeavors.”

Below, hear from Isabelle about some of the things she looks forward to in her future, and the legacy she hopes to leave with those whose lives she touches.

Q. Where do you plan to attend college, and what do you hope to major in? Why are you interested in this field of study?

“I haven’t decided exactly where I would like to attend college in the fall, but there are definitely many schools that have my attention. Wherever I go, I hope to major in Biochemistry. I am fascinated by biology and chemistry and would love to learn more about these subjects. Also, I hope to work in the medical field in the future, so I would like to major in a subject that would prepare me well.”

Q. Tell us about something you are passionate about outside of your academic studies.

“One thing that I am passionate about outside of academics is spending time with younger children. Over the past couple of years, I have had chances to lead a small group of second graders at church, volunteer at the MS Children’s Museum, and tutor younger students. These opportunities have allowed me to realize my passion for encouraging younger children and motivated me to spend my time influencing them positively.”

Q. What advice do you have for students who will compete in next year’s National Merit Program?

“My biggest piece of advice is to start small. Every short practice or review will help improve your chance of scoring well. Do not try and overwhelm yourself with large amounts of material that you could not possibly absorb. Instead, challenge yourself a little more each day and on the day of the test, relax and try your best.”

Q. What does it mean to you to win this award?

“This award is extremely valuable to me because it shows me that hard work does pay off in the long run and inspires me to continue to work hard each day. This award only opens the door for more opportunities that I am extremely grateful to have, and I plan to use this award as a motivation to take full advantage of them.”

Isabelle’s academic accomplishments include Academic Honor Roll; Algebra II Subject Award; AP Scholar With Honor Award; Glenn Cain Memorial Scholarship; Harmon and Faye Bowman Memorial Scholarship; Member, Cum Laude Society; Mu Alpha Theta; National English Honor Society; National Honor Society; National Junior Honor Society; Precalculus Subject Award; Rho Kappa; Science National Honor Society; and Spanish Honor Society. She has volunteered at “Kids With Character” Dance, Basketball, and Martial Arts Camp, the Mississippi Children’s Museum, Mustard Seed, Vacation Bible School and Children’s Ministry at CUMC.

Priya Ray

Priya Ray earned the National Merit Semifinalist status through a passionate desire to understand the world around her and to use that understanding to help others. “She has almost unmatched attention to detail, and through her high school career, I have seen her hone her attention to the important details, Upper School Science Teacher Sarah Shaw shared. “I have truly loved seeing her blossom over the last four years!”

“You’d think ‘smart’ was the first word I’d think of to describe Priya, but it’s not; it’s thoughtful,” said former JA Latin Teacher Judy McKeigney. Goal-oriented and hardworking, Priya uses her gifts of observation and intelligence to help others, often sharing class notes with fellow students and going the extra mile to encourage others. “She is one of the most generous people with her time and knowledge.”

Below, Priya shares words of wisdom for her fellow students and gratitude for her community at JA.

Q. Where do you plan to attend college, and what do you hope to major in? Why are you interested in this field of study?

“As of now, I am unsure about which college I prefer to attend! Currently, I would love to major in Biochemistry since I plan on going on the pre-medicine track and potentially minor in Finance to pursue my interest in math.”

Q. What are some of your goals for the next four years?

“I strive to go to a college out of the state and get into medical school after undergraduate education.”

Q. Rigorous academic course loads can be very stressful; how do you deal with that stress, and what advice do you have for students going through similar situations?

“Whenever I am stressed, I make a list of all of my upcoming assignments/projects, organizing them based on easiest to hardest. Then I try to accomplish as many as possible even if that means I need to stay up extra late. Take all of the opportunities you are given, always ask for help and give help, and work with others when allowed. Remember, a lot can get done in 24 hours!”

Q. What does this recognition mean to you?

“Both the teachers and students at Jackson Academy contributed significantly in different ways to help me achieve this recognition, and I hope I made them proud! Accomplishing this goal proves that even if the time to prepare seems limited, anyone can achieve their goals with hard work and others’ help.”

Priya’s many accomplishments and awards include earning the Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award; 1st Place in Biology, Math and Science Tournament; Scholastic Writing Competition Silver Key in Poetry; Latin I Award; Honors Chemistry Award; AP Chemistry Award; Academy Honor Roll; Member, Cum Laude Society; National Honor Society; Latin Honor Society; Mu Alpha Theta; Rho Kappa; National English Honor Society; and Science National Honor Society. She volunteers at the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, Mississippi Children’s Museum, and UMMC Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital and is a Jackson Academy Jernberg Scholar.