SHERIDAN — Two seniors at Sheridan High School recently received a rare accolade.
Riis Card and Kimberly Solti were named finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program on Feb. 11. About 1.6 million students across the country applied for the award, and the local students made up two of approximately 15,000 finalists.
To earn the honor, the students needed to perform well on several standardized tests and submit a lengthy scholarship application that included their academic record, extracurricular activities, leadership abilities and employment.
During the March 4 Sheridan County School District 2 board meeting, SHS principal Brent Leibach expressed pride in the students.
“It’s not just about what they do academically, it’s who they are as people,” Leibach said. “That’s what we want coming out of our school system, is high-quality people. Academically, absolutely they’re going to do great. What you really want is those kinds of people going out into society who are going to make a difference in what they do.”
Solti plans to attend the University of Wyoming and study mechanical engineering or biomedical engineering. Card hasn’t decided on a school yet but will likely study mechanical engineering or aerospace engineering.
Solti moved to Sheridan during her junior year of high school. Her father — who, along with her mother, helped instill values in Solti like work ethic and passion — is an engineer in the Air Force, and she previously lived in Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Alabama and Sweden.
Solti has participated in many activities but said two areas stand out of which she is most proud: Her experience as captain on the cheerleading team and the religious education classes she has taught to first-graders every Sunday at Holy Name Catholic Church for the past six months.
“I’ve really become passionate about [teaching], and getting to know all the kids and helping them grow and seeing them learn — it’s just been so rewarding,” Solti said. “… They’ve taught me as much as I’ve taught them.”
Despite living in town for less than two years, Solti said her favorite aspect of Sheridan involves the sense of community.
“I just have a lot of hometown pride for Sheridan, even though I wasn’t necessarily raised here,” Solti said. “It’s really become my home.”
Card shared similar sentiments. He has supportive parents who encouraged learning and has received support from teachers and administrators.
Card moved to Sheridan at age 5 after living near the Bay Area in California. He has gone back and forth between the two states a few times, including two months last summer when he took math courses at Stanford University.
Card said the different cultures and varied experiences of Wyoming and California helped him mature.
“I think that’s all been part of just gaining a perspective on life,” Card said. “This sounds really weird, but I think by being exposed to two completely different types of cultures, societies and civilizations, that’s helped me figure out how to be a rational person.”
Card has always enjoyed math and science. He particularly became interested in those fields in seventh grade when he participated in a makerspace and built wheeled robots.
“That was my first kind of taste with engineering, and since then, I’ve been involved in it,” Card said.
During his junior year, Card started a math club at the high school. It had four members initially and grew to six this year. He wanted to start the club because he enjoys learning about and discussing math with others. In college, he looks forward to learning about specific topics with a group of people who possess similar interests.
“I’m happy to finally get that type of specialized education that I really want around people that also want that education,” Card said.
Because he has taken numerous Advanced Placement courses, Card is on track to graduate with an associate degree in general science from Sheridan College at the same time he graduates from Sheridan High School in May.
Naturally, Card’s most stressful time of high school involves AP testing season in April and May. He takes several assessments over the course of two weeks, each of which lasts multiple hours.
“No matter how it happens, there’s still so much preparation, so much lead-up, that once you finish it, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, did I really get through that?’” Card said.
Solti has recently dealt with a different type of challenge. She broke her left fibula in two places after landing wrong during cheer practice about three weeks ago. When she landed, Solti at first tried to brush off the injury.
“I was like, ‘No I’m fine, I think I just rolled my ankle,’” Solti said.
She waited a few hours before going to the hospital. Solti wanted to recover in time for the state cheer that was only two weeks away, but that was no longer possible after receiving the news.
“When [the doctor] handed me the X-ray with the two full breaks in it, it was one of the hardest things to see, because immediately I just thought, ‘My season’s over,’” Solti said. “I didn’t realize it would be as mentally and emotionally taxing as it was. I thought I could just accept it and get over it, but it has been quite a process.”
It will most likely take her about a month to walk on her own and several more months to fully heal. However, she plans to walk across the stage at graduation as a National Merit finalist.
For Card and Solti, the notable accomplishment was the result of sustained effort and community support, something they haven’t taken for granted.