Two Eastlake students win merit scholarships

May 25, 2014

By Neil Pierson

New: May 25, 11:14 a.m.

James McCutcheon and Ryan Holmdahl have spent the past four years building impressive résumés, and their diligence has paid off with some rare recognitions.
The Eastlake High School seniors were among the list of 2014 National Merit Scholarship winners announced May 7. A total of five students from the Lake Washington School District were chosen, including Holmdahl, a Redmond resident, and McCutcheon, a Sammamish resident. The other three are also Sammamish residents – Cameron Akker and Samhita Karnati of Redmond High, and Anwell Wang of the International Community School in Kirkland.
Although every student in the nation who takes the PSAT is initially eligible for a National Merit Scholarship, a very small percentage actually gets the $2,500 award.
Of the 1.5 million students who take the PSAT annually, about 50,000 are given letters of commendation for their high scores, and only 16,000 are selected in September as scholarship semifinalists.
Roughly 15,000 national finalists are chosen in February. Those students, McCutcheon explained, are given the opportunity to complete an online application – which includes their academic standing, teacher recommendations and an essay – and compete for one of 2,500 scholarships, 50 per state.
The merit scholarships are chosen without regard to a student’s financial standing, the college they’ve chosen or the career path they’re pursuing.
McCutcheon lived in New Zealand and England before moving to the U.S. six years ago, and thinks that may have placed a part in his selection.
“I’ve got a lot of diversity in my application,” he said.
Holmdahl called the scholarship “a nice validation” of the work he’s put in at Eastlake.
“They say that it starts when you take the PSAT,” he noted, “but it was a lot of work you had to do before that, keeping up with your grades, keeping up with your studies, doing the SAT prep work beforehand, just making sure you’re off on the best footing you can be.”
Both Eastlake seniors are well-rounded in their academics, taking a dizzying array of advanced placement courses over the past two years.
McCutcheon has completed, or is in the process of completing AP classes in calculus, Spanish, U.S. government, chemistry and literature. Holmdahl has done each of those five courses as well as AP biology.
“I’m just trying to keep my interests diverse, making sure I’m not depriving myself of one particular field,” Holmdahl said.
They’re also no slouches when it comes to extracurricular activities. McCutcheon is a year-round athlete for the Wolves, having run track for four years and cross country for three. He was the swim team captain this winter, and even joined the tennis squad as a senior.
Meanwhile, Holmdahl served as captain for this year’s tennis team, and in leadership roles for the school’s chess club, speech and debate team, and Science Honor Society.
Holmdahl credits his parents, Anne and Todd, for being his biggest influences. His older brother, Eric, has also had a lot to do with his success, having gone on to Stanford University as a computer science major. Ryan will be joining Eric this fall at the prestigious school in Palo Alto, Calif., and said he’ll likely study computer science, too.
“I’ve had some outside-of-school experience with that, and so it’s probably my most promising interest,” he said. “But taking AP government this year really got me interested in law, and so I might consider going on the law track in graduate school.”
McCutcheon won’t be going far from Sammamish, having locked up a spot at the University of Washington. He’s entering the Foster School of Business and has a couple options in mind for where he’s headed.
“I either want to go into international business, because I’m pretty good at languages and I’ve had lots of experiences in other countries,” he said, “or business analysis, because I’m good with numbers.”
Like Holmdahl, McCutcheon said his parents, Kathryn and Douglas, have nudged him in the right direction.
“My parents have always pushed me to get my work done on time and complete it to the best of my ability, so really, they’re my role models in this,” McCutcheon said.

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