In his early years at Menlo-Atherton High School, Alex Oesterling would walk past posted lists of older students recognized as National Merit Scholarship nominees and hope to one day join their ranks.
As of the most recent announcement recognizing high schoolers for academic excellence, the Menlo Park native’s dreams are fulfilled and he is feeling quite rewarded.
“As a student, I’ve always wanted to be one of those people,” said Oesterling. “So this is one of the achievements I’m very proud of.”
Mary Streshly, superintendent of the Sequoia Union High School District, expressed her admiration for Oesterling’s accomplishment in an email.
“Alex is a hard working and dedicated student who represents the very best that the Sequoia Union High School District has to offer,” she said.
Oesterling, 17, joins Menlo-Atherton High School classmates Erin Cole, Emma Dewey, Zachary Furman, Kelsey Gage, Sajel Galhotra, Christopher Iyer, Patrick Kao, Jerry Liu, Nikita Manin, Kelley McCutcheon, Maanek Sehgal, James Sullivan, Andrew Tan and Narisa Trabosh as semi-finalists for the award.
Kiran Boone, David Chong, Casey Felton, Aaron Lu, Amanda Masini, Hanalei Pham, Zane VanArsdel, Edward Vendrow and Sammy Zhang were nominated from Carlmont High School; Nathanial Burrill, Zachary Lo, Clara MacAvoy and Hannah Marcus were among those nominated at Sequoia High School; and Allison Bhavsar, Mollie Kraus, Laurel Woods as well as Pearl Zhou were nominated from Woodside High School.
Together they represent less than 1 percent of the 1.6 million high school seniors across the nation competing for the recognition, which is based on their scores in the preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship qualifying test last fall. Ultimately they are vying to join the 7,500 high schoolers standing to win a share of $32 million in scholarship money. Winners will be announced in April.
Streshly admired the collective work of Sequoia Union High School District students as well.
“As a district, we are extremely proud of all of our National Merit Scholar nominees. Their commitment to excellence paves a path for new generations of students that will follow on their path to make their dreams a reality,” she said.
For his part, Oesterling has long been an accomplished student who tends to not put much weight in recognition for his work — with the merit scholarship being the one exception.
“It feels really great. In terms of nominations and scholarships, I don’t really have any aspirations, but this is just one of the things that I really wanted,” he said.
Another accomplishment he’s sought is continuing into higher education. And while Oesterling still is in the process of applying to Brown University as well as Northwestern University, his early admission to Michigan University puts his mind at ease.
“I’m very relaxed right now,” he said. “I know I’m going to college.”
Whichever school he selects, Oesterling said the next tough choice will be his major.
An accomplished and talented student in the field of science and math, Oesterling said initially he expected to pursue studies leading to an engineering degree. But recently his interest in the field has waned.
“I feel like a lot of engineers only make things that help the wealthy and only affect a small portion of the population,” he said. “I’m more interested in ways people think and ethics. That’s a way to help people that don’t have a lot.”
Since taking an advance placement class taught by John McBlair, Oesterling said he grew intrigued in issues such as social justice and plans to continue examining similar fields in the coming years.
Though he remains uncertain regarding which profession he will ultimately pursue, Oesterling said he is seeking opportunities to balance his engineering talents against a desire to make a difference.
“I think that I’ll be happy no matter what I do if I can make an impact or contribute to something greater than myself,” he said.
While the thought of a son straying from a path traditionally leading to a lucrative local tech job in favor of personal fulfillment through social justice may give some parents fits, Oesterling said that is not the case in his house.
With an obstetrician and gynecologist father and mother who works in gender studies at Stanford University focused on women’s rights, Oesterling said his parents encourage him to find his own way.
“They’ve been really supportive of me,” he said.
Oesterling also credits the encouragement he receives from his mates in the school jazz band for his scholastic success.
A jazz guitarist, Oesterling said he has played with some friends since middle school and the familiarity is beginning to pay dividends, as the band recently took first place in a competition at the San Joaquin Valley Jazz Festival.
Greater than the musical accolades though is the camaraderie established between the band mates and friends, said Oesterling.
“These guys are my peers. They’ve encouraged me to take harder classes, AP classes and made me into the student I am today,” he said.
When not studying or playing music, Oesterling said he also enjoys playing tennis or watching movies, as he spent a portion of the holiday break catching up on previous editions of the Star Wars series in anticipation of the release of “The Last Jedi.”
The variety of interests and accomplishments inside and outside the classroom leaves Oesterling satisfied, as he continues pursuit of academic recognition with an eye to matters of greater importance.
“I’m pretty happy with how I’ve been doing in school and happy with the people I’ve met and where I’m at in life,” he said. “I’m happy that I’m able to balance life and a healthy social life and able to navigate high school without the traditional drama.”
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