BIG HORN — Big Horn High School Principal Al Sparkman gathered all students Tuesday to share news that many principals never have the honor of announcing.

Sparkman named two Big Horn seniors, Casey Prior and Mary Nicholson, as National Merit Scholar finalists.

Prior and Nicholson’s accomplishment had Sparkman beaming with pride and brought a standing ovation from the student body.

Prior and Nicholson claim two of about 15,000 finalist titles nationwide and represent less than 1% of Wyoming’s high school seniors.

To become a semifinalist, students must score exceptionally high on the Preliminary SAT or the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

According to the National Merit Scholarship Program, students advance to finalist standing “by demonstrating through distinguished performance high potential for future academic accomplishment.”

Nicholson and Prior are the first National Merit Scholars in either of their families. When discussing people who have helped them achieve this status, they both acknowledged teachers’ involvement in ensuring student success.

“All of our teachers are good about advancing our learning,” Nicholson said.

This achievement will serve as more than a line on their resumés, as Prior and Nicholson’s chances for scholarships and college acceptances will rise as a result of the distinction.

“This will help us scholarship-wise. A lot of schools offer extra money because of it,” Prior said.

Although the ladies have both been accepted to multiple colleges, neither have committed to a school yet. Arizona State University, Montana State University, and Colorado School of Mines have all accepted Nicholson. Now that she has been named a finalist, she wants to discover what type of incentive package Arizona State University will now offer her.

Also with no shortage of college options is Prior, who has been accepted to University of Wyoming, Montana State University, Colorado State University, and Michigan State University.

“I’ve also applied to Dartmouth and Princeton, but I have to wait until Ivy Day to know if I’ve been accepted or not,” Prior said.

As far as their post-secondary areas of study, both ladies are keeping their options open.

“I’m not 100% sure what I want to major in,” Prior said. “I’ve played around with something like pre-med or pre-vet. I’ve also thought about adding a secondary major and doing music education.”

Nicholson also has multiple pursuits from which to choose. Highly ranked on her list is computer science and cybersecurity.

“I’ve also contemplated English. I’m all over the place as far as interests,” Nicholson said.

If she were to study English, she is most interested in working at a publishing house and reading manuscripts.

Both students don’t only excel in academics. Involved with choir, jazz band, pep band and concert band, Prior is also an all-state musician. She competes in speech and debate and rides horseback competitively.

“That’s definitely a passion of mine. I don’t know what I’d do without my horses and my music,” Prior said.

Nicholson, a three-season athlete, fills her time with volleyball, indoor track and soccer.

Rounding out their extracurriculars, Nicholson said both she and Prior are members of National Honor Society and student council.

Out of the 15,000 finalists, 7,600 will receive scholarships. Recipients will be alerted next month.


Article by Darci Petersen

for The Sheridan Press