Phs Senior A National Merit Scholarship Finalist

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Payson High School senior Stephanie Hilliard's four-year commitment to academic excellence is reaping huge dividends -- she has been accepted to Stanford University, and has been named a National Merit Scholarship Program finalist.

Her acceptance to Stanford was a dream come true for the 17-year-old who can claim to having one of the highest grade point averages, 4.238 in advanced placement classes, in the history of Payson High School.

"Since I was a little girl, I've wanted to go to Stanford," she said. "Last fall, I decided I might as well try to, so I filled out the (enrollment) forms."

About two months after completing the required paperwork and submitting it to the school along with her PHS transcripts and letters of recommendation, Hilliard received a letter saying she had been chosen to attend next school year.

"That was really exciting. Stanford is such a great university," she said.

According to PHS school counselors Judy Michel and Don Heizer, the last Payson High graduate, and maybe the only one, to attend Stanford University was Mark Hochstettler who enrolled in 1989.

"That's what makes it such a great honor for Stephanie and the school," Michel said. "Not many (high school graduates) get accepted to Stanford."

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Payson High School counselor Judy Michel has been a huge supporter of Stephanie Hilliard in the student's lifelong dream to attend Stanford University.

Although Hilliard's goal is to attend the California university, she continues to mull over other offers, searching for the best fit.

In choosing a university to attend, she wants one that is top-notch academically but affordable.

Since Stanford is expensive, the PHS senior must consider the amount of scholarship help she will receive, the student loans that are available and tuition costs.

As exciting as the acceptance from Stanford was for Hilliard, it was just the beginning of several thrills she's enjoying.

Early this week, PHS principal Sue Myers stopped the teen on campus to share with her a letter the school received from the National Merit Scholarship Program.

In it, Hilliard learned she had met all the requirements to become a finalist in the competition for National Merit scholarships.

She qualified for the prestigious scholarship by garnering an impressive score in her junior year on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test.

In March, she will learn whether she has been chosen a scholarship recipient.

If chosen to receive one of the 8,200 scholarships nationwide, could be covered almost all of her college expenses.

College recruiters consider National Merit Scholars the cream of the crop. Most universities heavily recruit the students to help bolster their academic reputations.

The only problem is, Stanford has such a strong academic standing nationwide the school doesn't need to accept the National Merit Scholarships.

That could mean if Hilliard receives it, finances might force her to chose another school, possibly the University of Arizona.

Whichever school she attends, Hilliard plans on majoring in a medical research field.

"I have asthma and someday, when I graduate, I'd like to study it and how it affects you," she said.

Although Hilliard's main focus is on academics, she finds plenty of time for other school activities.

Last fall, she and fellow Key Club members participated in a "Donations for Education" program in which they collected money to purchase school supplies for Philippine children. The Key Club is a Kiwanis-sponsored service program for high school students.

The students collected more than 3,400 school items, ranging from pencils to backpacks, and shipped them to school children in three villages in the Philippines.

Hilliard got the idea for the project while visiting the islands with her mother, Bella, who grew up there.

"I saw they didn't have a lot of things -- school supplies like paper and chairs that we take for granted," she said.

In addition to the Key Club project, Hilliard was one of the top runners-up in the 2005 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in the state.

She's also earned all-region honors in the PHS chorus and enjoys playing the piano and guitar.

Hilliard's long list of high school achievements and her contributions to the school have Michel singing her praise.

"She is one of the finest students we've ever had," Michel said. "It's so much fun to work with her and be a part of what she is able to accomplish."

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