By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — Cassie Cole is Windham High’s first National Merit Scholarship winner.
She also is the only National Merit Scholar in Southern New Hampshire this year, one of just 14 in the state.
“She is a phenomenal student,” principal Tom Murphy said Friday.
Cole is phenomenal enough to earn salutatorian honors in the Class of 2013, which includes 161 seniors bound for graduation June 14.
The daughter of Dawn and Clayton, Cole is bound for another destination soon, the campus of Brown University in Rhode Island.
“That was absolutely her number one choice,” Murphy said.
Brown gave Cole early admission.
“She didn’t apply anywhere else,” her principal said.
Cole, 18, plans to study international relations. She said she is interested in a career in the State Department.
“This is pretty helpful,” Cole said of the scholarship, which brings her $2,500.
The National Merit Scholarship Corp. said the scholarship recipients are judged to have “the strongest combination of accomplishments, skills, and potential for success in rigorous college studies.”
“Less than 1 percent of all students nationwide get this scholarship,” Murphy said.
The competition started when the nation’s students were juniors. About 1.5 million had to clear the first hurdle, scoring well on the PSAT exams.
Cole said she had 234 of a possible 240 points.
Ultimately, a committee of college admissions officers and high school counselors evaluated their academic records, difficulty of subjects, test results and activities.
Cole admits winning the scholarship took a lot of study and time. Her advice to underclassmen with their eyes on the prize: “Work hard in all your classes.”
Cole isn’t the only standout in this year’s class, which Murphy points out is the first to have spent all four years in the school.
Last year’s first graduating class arrived as sophomores at Windham. This year’s seniors went all the way through from freshman year.
Murphy said the 161 graduates have acceptances to 507 universities.
Besides Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, Yale, Boston College, Texas, Arizona, Providence and, of course, the University of New Hampshire came calling for these seniors.
Murphy said valedictorian Paul Maravelias had a choice between Brown and Dartmouth.
But other students had multiple choices, too. Seven schools, including Duke and Tufts, accepted Andrew Sun. Classmate Alex Whitehead had acceptances to seven. Nicole Taylor, a skiing standout, had four colleges offering admission.