[Life] The Hope of High School Achievement

National Merit Winner From Valparaiso Is More Than A Cipher On A Grade Point List

By Mike Siroky

There is more to Hopey Fink than her stellar grade point average.

As a student who, she says, naturally “got it” in the classroom, she has taken some teasing for being on top of the academic honor rolls for most of her classroom years.

Not that it really bothered her; it was just something that comes with such success. She likes to think of herself as a “well-rounded, normal” student who is ready to embrace what comes next.

Her accomplishments were underlined in a national way when Elizabeth Hope Fink – she identifies herself as “Hopey” — of Valparaiso High School earned a National Merit Scholarship.

She has waded through fast-track acceptance letters from the most-prestigious, top academic colleges in the land and settled upon Georgetown, with a proposed double-major in Linguistics and Anthropology.

She credits her mom and dad, Sarah and Joe, with her life successes so far, which naturally includes what she had accomplished grade-wise.

“My parents are very encouraging, not demanding,” she said.

“I have always been exposed to learning environments, they always wants us to do our best, to keep learning.

“They have never been really strict about exactly what grades I get, just so long as I do my best learning.”

So, with what she termed “acceptable” PSATs, she entered the National Merit competition.

High School juniors take the test, after meeting qualifying standards through their PSATs.

Registration for the test is by high school rather than individual student.

The National Merit Scholarship Program, located in Evanston, Ill., receives all PSAT/NMSQT scores and information students provide on their answer sheet.

A Score Report gives each student a Selection Index score (critical reading plus mathematics plus writing skills scores) and whether the student meets NMSC program entry requirements.

The Selection Index scores of students who meet entry requirements are used to designate high scorers to receive recognition. NMSC identifies its semifinalists and sends scholarship application materials to them through their high schools.

 In both the National Merit® Scholarship Program and the National Achievement® Scholarship Program, students who qualify as Semifinalists and then meet academic and other standards advance to the Finalist level to compete for scholarships. 

So Fink progressed after earning Semifinalist status – no mean feat in itself – and was onto the finals.

“I was surprised when I actually got my score. I didn’t understand how the whole process worked,” she said.

“I didn’t realize how selective it was until I looked it up on the Internet.”

There were 16,000 students nationwide named semifinlaists.

NMSC’s goals have remained constant since its inception in 1955:

• To identify and honor academically talented U.S. high school students;

• To stimulate increased support for their education; and

• To provide efficient and effective scholarship program management for organizations that wish to sponsor college undergraduate scholarships.

The NMSC has recognized 2.8 million students and provided more than 350,000 scholarships worth more than $1.4 billion. The honors awarded by NMSC to exceptionally able students are viewed as definitive marks of excellence.

And, as Fink learned, certain schools provide additional scholarships if you are a National Merit winner.

When she received notification she had actually won, she forgot to send in the paperwork for publicity so the award was sort of a secret for awhile.

But it is no secret she has chosen Geirgetown. She plans to work summers on anthropology digs or with her professors to get addtional hands-on skills.

“Georgetown itself, as a history buff, is exciting eniugh,” she said. 

“I can’t imagine walking in those footsteps. The Smithsonian.”

Her reading selections and watching documentary TV shows has led her to anthropology. “It is something I just kind of went to over time,” she said.

”But I have never taken an actual anthropology course of course. I think I can end up in graduate school, with lots of time academic research.”

So her she is, on the precipice of a brave new world, expanding from Valparaiso to everywhere, the future studies mixed with defining the past.

Because she applied to her colleges of choice early, she knew in December which schools were personal finalists, including local favorite Notre Dame.

She knows the move to D.C. will be tough, as she is so very close to her family.

“I am gonna miss a lot of things, but my family most of all,” she said.

As the oldest of four children, she is a personal role model for her younger siblings as well as for anyone dedicated to the sheer joy of learning, of expanding personal world views. “They are all very smart,” she said of her family members. “I am sure they will all do fine.”

She has been part of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Missions (associated with Valparaiso University) and wil complete one last trip, to the Minneapolis area, this summer.

“I will miss that,” she said of the mission trips. “I definitely love traveling.”

“And we do have some relatives in the (Georgetown) area, so I will have family close by,” she said of the coming transiton phase.

“I have always sort of seen this as an exciting new experience. I will mis my parents, my family, my friends, of just being in Valpo.

“It is exciting as the end of the school year comes, bittersweet,” she said. “I stil have prom, graduation and all that, but it is sneaking up on me.”