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Grunewald named National Merit finalist

FAIRMONT — Fairmont High School senior Ethan Grunewald has been named a National Merit Scholarship finalist. Grunewald is one of just five students from Fairmont who have received the honor in nearly two decades.

“Most school counselors will maybe have one National Merit finalist, but this is number five for me,” said Fairmont High School guidance counselor Scott Geerdes.

Other students who have been named National Merit finalists from FHS include Jeb Green in 2019, Kellen Rodriguez in 2018, Caleb Larson in 2013 and Joel Dahlin in 2006.

The National Merit Scholarship program has been around since 1995. Its goal is to identify and honor academically-talented U.S. high school students. Though it is not required to take the PSAT to get into college, many students take it because it is a good scholarship opportunity.

When Grunewald was a junior, he took the PSAT with some of his classmates. In September of 2020, Grunewald was named a National Merit semi-finalist. Classmates Ameya Komaragiri and Gibson Berg were both named Commended Students by National Merit.

Now a finalist, Grunewald placed in the top 15,000 out of 3.5 million test-takers across the country.

In addition to being an academically-gifted student, Grunewald plays the saxophone, clarinet and flute in band. He also enjoys coding for the robotics team and he’s a math league member. He’s also a long-time tennis player, member of the cross country team and recently joined track. Grunewald also joined the school’s new Audio Video club this year.

Grunewald shared that he was recently called into Principal Kim Niss’ office and told he had been named a finalist.

“I was really surprised actually. I hadn’t heard from them in like three months so I thought it was the end of it, but then I got this letter,” Grunewald said.

After being named a semi-finalist in late September, Grunewald said he needed to get several letters of recommendation as well as write an essay in order to be considered as a finalist.

There is potential for Grunewald to receive a substantial scholarship, but he won’t find out for a few more months.

“Out of the 15,000 finalists, I think about there are about 7,000 National Merit scholarships they give out and then there’s corporate sponsored ones, too,” Grunewald said.

Even if he does not receive a scholarship, Grunewald is aware that being named a National Merit finalist will look good on his resume and college applications.

He is waiting to hear back from several schools, but he shared his dream school is California Institute of Technology. Former 2018 National Merit Scholarship finalist, Kellen Rodriguez, attends Cal Tech. Grunewald said he would like to study computer science.

As for now, Grunewald is looking forward to the rest of his senior year and is happy to be able to attend school in-person after months of distance learning.

“It’s been really nice to be back in the building everyday. It feels more like actual school now,” Grunewald said.

Geerdes acknowledges Grunewald as an overall kind and talented student and person.

“He has been a pillar in terms of his positivity, his academic achievements and his involvement in school and in the community,” Geerdes said.

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