Seven of Bozeman High School's brightest seniors demonstrated they have a strong sense of humor when they came up with the idea of making a group photo less dull by creating a flying Superman pose.

Not what you'd expect from serious students who qualified as National Merit Scholarship semifinalists by scoring in the top 1 percent nationally on the 2012 Preliminary SAT test.

In addition to the seven National Merit semifinalists at Bozeman High, two students in private Bozeman schools — Petra Academy and Heritage Christian School — qualified this year.

The nation's 16,000 semifinalists have a chance to win 2,500 National Merit scholarships worth $2,500 each, plus corporate scholarships.

Being on the list of National Merit semifinalists means wider choices of colleges, and some even offer free rides, said Kurt Swimley, 18.

“I wasn't planning to go out of state before I got this,” said Sarah Nagy, 18. “It's definitely given me a lot of opportunity.”

Students at all three schools said they feel they've gotten very good educations. Bozeman High has “some really inspirational teachers,” Nagy said.

Irvin Tran, 17, said it's “really neat” that Bozeman High students can expand their horizons by taking anything from college-level Advanced Placement classes to auto class, Native American studies and guitar.

Nolan Hall, 18, said one thing that sets Bozeman High apart from other great high schools is its “innocence” because of its secluded mountain setting.

Cara Robertus, 17, a senior at Heritage Christian, said her school has only about 40 students in high school, and the small number of students for each teacher is “a blessing, and helps you accomplish your goals.” Her science teacher was able to get her an internship in a cancer research lab at Montana State University.

Rachel Gianforte, 17, a Petra Academy senior, said she tends to focus on math and science, but Petra has taught her to love the humanities through reading classics by Plato, Descartes, Newton and other great thinkers.

Their advice to younger students: Get involved in school activities, don't stress out too much, communicate with teachers, and take advantage of opportunities. “Appreciate your education,” Nagy said. “So many kids say they're forced to be here. It's so much better than a lot of schools.”

Here are the local 2013 National Merit semifinalists:

  • Cayley Boyd, 17, went to Argentina last year and lived with a family for six months. “It changed me a lot,” Boyd said. “Before I was kind of into the idea of success being position … prestige, power. Now I want to do anything that lets me experience new things and meet new people and make connections with other people.” A Canadian, she's thinking of studying international business in British Columbia.
  • Irvin Tran, whose parents left Vietnam, has been active on the debate team, which has taught him how to think critically, and the Honor Society, which every month takes on a community service project, like carving pumpkins for retirement homes. He said he plans to go to college and will probably major in English.
  • Peter Crawford-Kahrl, 17, son of a cattle rancher, said he wants to be a theoretical physicist. He has been “absolutely fascinated” since age 7 when he saw a “Nova” program on string theory. He's been active in debate, the Verge teen theater and is a drum major with the marching band. Crawford-Karhl said he also started an alternative newspaper, The Mirror, which was at first banned at school, until he discussed it with school administrators and pointed out court cases supporting students' free speech. He plans to attend MSU.
  • Nolan Hall has taken voice lessons, plays guitar and enjoys skiing and parkour. He was planning to take a gap year and then go to MSU, but now has good scholarship offers from places like the University of Nebraska, which he plans to check out. He's thinking of following both his parents' examples and majoring in computer science.
  • Seanhenry VanDyke, 17, said he is interested in a full-ride offer from Oklahoma Christian University. He said he appreciates the “liberty” students have at Bozeman High, from open campus at lunch to the ability to choose classes. He plans to study engineering and then possibly go to law school, which seems fun and an “opportunity to make a difference, to affect society through political involvement.”
  • Kurt Swimley has been active in debate, plays clarinet in marching band and is active in the Scribblings poetry magazine. He likes to read a lot and is a fan of the “Game of Thrones” series. He definitely plans to attend college and will probably major in the humanities or economics.
  • Sarah Nagy said she wants to take a year off and go where she can use the Spanish she's been studying. At some point she wants to go to college and maybe major in psychology. “I've found a lot of things I like; I'm not ready to narrow it down.”
  • Cara Roberts said she has been playing piano since age 5 “and loved it ever since.” She played in band and sang in the choir at Heritage Christian. She plans to attend MSU and study chemical and biological engineering. “I've always loved science and math.” Homeschooled through seventh grade, Roberts said her mother was “a fantastic teacher, the best I've ever had,” who taught her “a love of learning and a desire to push myself.”
  • Rachel Gianforte said at Petra she has been active in sports — volleyball, basketball, Ultimate Frisbee; played the flute; taken private voice lessons, which led to joining the chorus in last year's Christmas opera; and has taken calculus at MSU. She is applying to top colleges and plans to follow her dad's lead by majoring in engineering, “hopefully computer science.” She said her older brother taught her it doesn't matter how smart you are: “Working hard is the most important thing.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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