YUKON — Members of the class of 2014 at Southwest Covenant Schools have embarked on their senior year, seeking academic honors and college scholarships. Their immediate predecessors left them a high standard to meet.
Five members of the most recent graduating class from the private, Christian-based school are launching their college careers with one of the most coveted prizes in academia: a National Merit Scholarship.
The five scholarship awards might be considered even more amazing in light of the total number of May graduates at the school: 21.
Southwest Covenant has had an impressive academic history with some of the highest average ACT scores in Oklahoma, said headmaster Steve Lessman, whose son was one of the National Merit Scholarship winners.
“It was quite a shock last fall when these five young men were named National Merit semifinalists,” he said.
To have all five move on to become finalists, then National Merit Scholarship winners was even more exciting.
Seth Brown, James Burton, Trevor Carmack, Christian Hagan and Garrett Lessman were named finalists in January. In June, they were announced as National Merit Scholars, the top prize of the competition.
“It's a big deal,” said Susie Nix, academic services coordinator at the school for the past 13 years and a close follower of the winners' academic careers.
According to its website, the National Merit Scholarship Program is a privately funded academic competition that annually awards scholarships to less than 1 percent of the more than 1.5 million students who enter the competition.
All members of the class performed well throughout their careers at Southwest Covenant, Nix said. “They are just a good academic bunch.”
Nix said two additional class members also were National Merit semifinalists and have gone on to college with high honors. The 21-member class made an average score of 28.3 on the ACT, Nix said.
Steve Lessman said the 2013 senior class as a whole received more than $1 million in scholarship aid.
“They've had good teaching and a rigorous curriculum,” Nix said, “but they have challenged each other. They motivate one another. I can't say I was surprised. It will be interesting to see what God does with these young men.”
Ron Yocum was headmaster for five years before retiring in June. He observed firsthand the academic achievements of the five winners.
“I was surprised but not shocked, Yocum said. “I wasn't surprised at the ability. All five are fantastic students.”
Yocum said that sometimes, students possess the intellect to excel academically but lack the work ethic. That wasn't the case with the scholarship recipients, he said.
“All five showed the propensity to work hard,” he said.
The entire 2013 senior class was special, Yocum said. “The scores were high, and they pushed each other.”
Garrett Lessman has enrolled at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He said his goal is to be the general manager of a major league baseball team.
“This was a very exciting thing for me and my family and the school. I am thankful God gave me the opportunity to do this,” he said.
Garrett Lessman said he'll carry a double major of business and finance-economics, with minors in mathematics and history. He said he hopes to attend law school after receiving his bachelor's degree, and wants “to do something with numbers.”
Hagan is attending the University of Oklahoma with a double major of business and petroleum engineering. He said he hopes to join an oil or gas company as a petroleum engineer, then move into an executive position.
“I am really interested in the business side and want to work my way up,” he said.
Southwest Covenant “is an amazing school,” he said.“It is really small, but they can take ordinary people and make them go a lot further.”
Brown, Burton and Carmack could not be reached for comment.
The 2014 senior class will be similar in size to the most recent class.
Are similar academic honors awaiting them? Possibly so, said Nix, recalling that the 2013 class members excelled academically throughout their careers.
“This (2013) class has been a top class academically from day one,” she said. “And the one coming in is like that.”