As semifinalists for the University of North Carolina’s most prestigious merit scholarship, Sylvia Hipp, Connor Jenkins, Macie Kavanaugh, and Emma Gentry Landry are in elite company.
They put Pinecrest High School there too, placing it among the handful of schools with four students to make the Morehead-Cain semifinal cut. This is the first year in the school’s history that more than three students have advanced this far in the process.
“There are so many incredibly kind, brilliant people that are applying for the Morehead that it’s really humbling for the four of us to make it this far,” said Jenkins. “I think a lot of that speaks to the teachers that we’ve had and the counselors and the parents that we’ve had supporting us all along the way.”
Established in 1945, the Morehead is the oldest merit scholarship in the United States — and four years of tuition and expenses at UNC are just the start of what it offers. During the summers, Morehead Scholars can write their own ticket to research experiences, internships, public service or outdoor leadership projects — to which location is no object.
“The opportunities for research are absolutely unparalleled with the Morehead,” said Jenkins. “They do a really great job in terms of getting you jobs and research opportunities at Carolina, as well as after you leave Carolina. It’s a program that really follows you throughout your life.”
Pinecrest last had a Morehead scholar, Elaine Kearney, in 2014.
“You can make connections with people who were Morehead Scholars and it would just be such an honor to be a part of a community who all had the same experience,” Hipp said. “It helps you so much in life and to also have that support system behind you.”
North Carolina high schools nominated more than 1,500 students for the Morehead scholarship, 250 of whom advanced to the semifinals. North Carolina’s nominees also compete with students from Morehead-eligible schools in other states and abroad. The 65-member Morehead Class of 2021 included 37 scholars from North Carolina.
Students don’t achieve the status on academic excellence alone. The offices of Pinecrest’s Student-2-Student program, which helps children of military families acclimate, are found on the resumes of its Morehead semifinalists, as are leadership roles in the school’s Amnesty International chapter, Key Club, National Honor Society and Random Acts of Kindness group.
On top of that, Jenkins is the school’s student body president, Landry captains the varsity tennis team, and Hipp and Kavanaugh are cross country co-captains.
“If I could have a school full of students who are this service-oriented, let alone extremely talented academically, what a wonderful place it would be,” said Principal Bob Christina. “They’ve helped us tutor kids that would not have graduated otherwise. They don’t have to do any of that. They’re exceptional and we’re blessed to have them.”
Regardless of where they ultimately earn an undergraduate degree, the group has ambitions as varied as their interests. Kavanaugh, who is in line to be the fifth of her siblings to attend UNC, hopes to study biomedical engineering or criminology. Hipp is considering pediatric medicine or environmental engineering.
Jenkins plans to nurture passion for social justice majoring in women’s studies, and Landry will spend her time in college preparing for law school, unless another interest prevails.
The next step in the process comes in January, when the semifinalists are interviewed, participate in a group evaluation exercise, and are notified whether or not they proceed to the final round. About 130 finalists will participate in a selection weekend in Chapel Hill before scholarships are offered in March.
“It’s a really big honor for all four of us to be nominated for this,” said Landry. “It really opens up the opportunities you have in front of you and there are so many people that are nominated who are all very smart and they can win this scholarship.”
In the meantime, Pinecrest’s four finalists are supporting each other, keeping their options open, and trying not to be too dazzled by the possibilities.
“It’s kind of cool, because we’re all friends and know each other and talk to each other, that we all made it,” said Kavanaugh.