The National Merit Scholarship Program has advanced two students from Holy Cross High School in Dunmore to finalist status in the annual competition for more than $36 million in scholarship funds to be awarded this spring, according to an announcement by National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
Seniors Emily Peduto and Alex Rojek were named semifinalists last September from among 1.5 million students who took the PSATs (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test). Their scores placed them in the top 15,000 students across the nation. Semifinalists are designated on a state representational basis. About a third of the 50,000 high scorers qualify as Semifinalists. They are the highest scoring entrants in each state.
Ms. Peduto and Mr. Rojek both have a perfect 800 score in the Writing section of the SAT test. They advanced to finalist status based on their high school academic and extra-curricular careers and will compete for 8,400 student scholarships awarded by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation across the United States.
Ms. Peduto is the daughter of Beth Haiges-Peduto, Jermyn, and the late Michael Peduto. Mr. Rojek is the son of Lynda and Edward Rojek, Scott Twp.
“Alex has many talents. Extremely driven, he wants everything out of life,” said Holy Cross Principal James Marcks. “Emily is gifted, very involved at school, and environmentally conscious. She is extremely confident in who she is and is driven in her own way. Both are well-rounded students, and deeply involved in service.”
The Merit Scholarship program requires that all finalists have a record of “consistently very high” academic performance in all of grades 9 through 12, including any college course work taken. Both Ms. Peduto and Mr. Rojek participate in the Diocese of Scranton Scholars program and have taken college night classes at the University of Scranton for their junior and senior years, in addition to their regular studies.
NMSC judges select Merit Scholar designees based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments. They review academic record, information about the school’s curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, the high school official’s written recommendation, information about the student’s activities and leadership, and the Finalist’s own essay.
Ms. Peduto plays the African djembe drum, competes in the Fiction Fanatics playoffs – answering quiz questions on 40 book titles – and volunteers cleaning up the Lackawanna River corridor and tutoring underprivileged children, among other after-school activities. Mr. Rojek runs cross-country and track, studies piano and voice, takes the lead in high school musicals, voluntarily organizes variety shows and uses his musical talents to raise money for cancer and SADS (Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome) research and children’s scholarships.
In their personal lives they pursue varied interests. At Holy Cross High School, they champion many of the same causes – including the “Stand Up for Life” Pro-Life March in Washington D.C. Both embrace charitable work, science and music in their lives outside the classroom. Both are nationally-recognized for their scholarship.
“I’m really happy at Holy Cross. You couldn’t ask for anything better academically,” said Mr. Rojek. “The faculty learn your strengths and weaknesses. It’s a very individualized learning experience.”
Said Ms. Peduto, “I have the most incredible teachers at Holy Cross. You can always tell they’re here because they want to be. They are so creative with their lesson plans. They have so much passion.”
“I believe we all have a responsibility to be benevolent individuals, and to help each other by being responsible for our world,” explains Ms. Peduto. A vegetarian, she maintains home garden compost. Her pets include a rescue dog. Her mantra: “Think globally, act locally. If everyone took care of his or her own backyard, we wouldn’t have to worry about the world.”
Ms. Peduto has chosen to pursue a dual major of Wildlife Management and English Literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, combining her love of fiction and the environment. “I plan to give my major a botany focus,” she said, and to work for a conservancy after graduation.
At the Lackawanna River Corridor Association (LRCA) headquarters and along the river trails, Ms. Peduto removes “invasive plants” to prevent them for encroaching on native plant life, and assists in monitoring water-quality.
According to Barbara Semian, LRCA program manager, Ms. Peduto does whatever is needed. “Emily is just a wonderful young woman. She is incredibly knowledgeable about plant life. While she learns from us, we learn from her. She’s a very humble, special person. We always look forward to her coming in.”
Mr. Rojek plans a dual major in pre-medicine and English literature but has not yet made his college choice. “I like helping people and I think medicine is the best way to do that for me,” he said. “I love to read and write, and I love science. As a physician, I might do research and write articles for medical journals.”
He got involved with the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science in 7th grade and has been winning first- or second-place medals at the regional or state-wide level for the past five years. He has also earned special awards for excellence in biochemistry and a National Science League gold medal in chemistry, among other accolades.
Ms. Peduto has also earned many science awards since grade school, and took first place in the 2010 Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science competition at the state and regional level.
“Emily is Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth,” said Kathy Yaklic, Holy Cross director of religious formation and moderator of the Pro-Life Club and the Honor Society. “She wants to help out those most in need. She goes with the service club to neighborhoods with some of the most neglected little children, playing with them, helping with homework. She crochets blankets for the homeless. She has a heart of gold.”
“Alex is a born leader. He listens to kids. They respect him,” said Mrs. Yaklic. “Using that leadership, he gathered a team of students to put on ‘America Idol’ fund-raisers, last year and this year, and raised over $9,000 for charity. He is also a great thinker. Alex respectfully challenges adults in the classroom. He’s not afraid to share his perspective.”
Also a musician as well as a scientist, Mr. Rojek has studied piano since third grade. For the past two years, he’s taken the lead in the school productions “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Anything Goes.” “I like to try everything, and I usually like everything,” said Alex, who has also taken first-place awards in an Art Show competition.
Holy Cross Track and Cross-country Coach Charles Orlando made this comment: “Everybody knows Alex is smart, very intelligent but the thing I always admired most about him most was his persistence. He wasn’t the most talented runner on the team, not the most valued member, but he always gave his best. He had the gumption to really work hard at it all the time. That’s rare in a teen-ager. He’s an excellent team member.”
They both belong to the many clubs at Holy Cross including Junior Statesmen of America, Environmental, Latin, Spanish and Pro-Life and Mission Clubs, and the School Newspaper.
She is an executive member of the Crusaders of Compassion animal welfare club, and member of Mock Trial Team, the Chess Club, the Scholastic Bowl, captain of the NEIU Fiction Fanatics and also plays piano and guitar.
He is president of the Student Council, and also participates in the National Honor Society Peer Tutor, D.A.R.E. Role Model, Drama Club, Chorus, and Ministry Team and is a church cantor and lector.