Hayes students named scholarship finalists

By Stacy Kess

February 25, 2014

Five Hayes High School seniors earned national recognition and two will compete for national scholarships as part of the National Merit and National Achievement Scholarship Programs.

Seamus O’Flaherty, 17, and Jason Watkins, 17, received top honors from the national organization that allows high school students to compete for scholarship money through the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

O’Flaherty was named one of 15,000 national finalists in the National Merit Scholarship competition. Watkins was named one of 1,300 national finalists in the National Achievement Scholarship Program, a scholarship program for African American students also based on the PSAT. Both are eligible for $2,500 scholarships. Fewer than 1 percent of students taking the qualifying test earn the highest commendations.

“It’s such a small percentage of kids that do it,” said Principal Ric Stranges. “But they are modest, hard-working kids.”

O’Flaherty said he learned the news from his father, who opened up the mail while he and his mother were out. O’Flaherty said he felt relief that he had finally learned the results. He said his father was excited and his mother, Delaware City Schools board of education president Frances O’Flaherty, was pleased.

“She did have trouble controlling her smile muscles,” he said.

Watkins said he wasn’t even sure the results were correct for his score. Then when he learned he had qualified as an National Achievement Scholarship finalist, he was initially unsure about being identified for the scholarship because of race, he said.

“I just questioned myself because I don’t look the part,” he said.

Both finally excepted it, but quietly. They said they haven’t made a big deal of the results.

Stranges said he’s ready to highlight the academic prowess of his students, including O’Flaherty and Watkins.

“It’s something we don’t take for granted,” he said. “It’s the academic piece that puts them on the map.”

He said the honors reflect not just Hayes High School but the district as a whole because both O’Flaherty and Watkins have spent their entire academic career in Delaware City Schools.

Watkins and O’Flaherty have also had recognition outside the classroom. Watkins has competed in sports throughout high school and has been captain of the cross country team for two years. O’Flaherty has been a marching band section leader for percussion for two years and competes in “In the Know.”

Both students said they are proud of their academics. Both students take Advanced Placement courses and have 4.0 GPAs. Watkins is in the running for valedictorian.

The honors bestowed as finalists in the National Merit and National Achievement Scholarship programs has added to the academic experience, Stranges said.

“It’s definitely a feeling of success,” Watkins said. “It’s just another experience of setting up for the future.”

O’Flaherty agreed.

“It’s nice that the first step covers so much ground,” he said.

Neither O’Flaherty nor Watkins have committed to a college or university yet, but both have received offers for scholarship or honors programs. O’Flaherty said he wants to follow a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) path in college. Watkins said he wants to study business.

Three other students received honors in the competition. Senior Maya McCabe was also named a National Merit Semifinalist, a designation given to the top one percent of all students taking the qualifying test. Seniors Amy Co and Rachael Vonada were named Commended Students in the 2013 National Merit Scholarship Program, a designation given to those scoring in the top five percent of students taking the qualifying test.

Students take the PSAT in the beginning of their junior year of high school. Scholarship winners are notified by mail in late February and early March of their senior year.

“They do make us proud,” Stranges said. “I have been so impressed with the rigour, with the opportunities our students have.”