Meet the National Merit semifinalists: Lessley Dennigton

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Lessley Dennington is one of three National Merit Semifinalists from Cape Central High School. She has collected numerous trophies from her involvement on the Speech and Debate Team. (Kristin Eberts)

They are members of a select group of students, and this year in Southeast Missouri, the headquarters is Cape Girardeau Central High School. The Southeast Missourian introduces you to local National Merit semifinalists, all of whom are enrolled at Central. Out of a competitive field of more than 1.5 million students who took the PSAT last year, these high-achieving seniors have joined this year's class of 16,191 semifinalists nationally, 341 from Missouri. They are the only representatives from an 18-school area in Southeast Missouri. The students will compete for finalist honors, vying for one of 8,400 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $36 million combined.

This week's scholar is Lessley Dennington, who has a passion for speech and debate because she loves the competition and, she says, it allows her to talk as much as she wants.

Age: 18

Parents: Don and Marilee Dennington

How do you balance school and extracurricular activities? For me, the key to balancing a busy life is running. Although it seems like this would be just another activity to squeeze into my already crammed schedule, it's actually a great way to alleviate stress, and it gives me time to figure out how to fit in everything else I have to do for the day. If I have to skip runs for two or three days, I usually get really grumpy and stressed-out.

What is your dream college and what do you plan to study? I fell in love with the University of Notre Dame when I visited earlier this fall. It's got a great balance of academics, sports, faith and community. If I am lucky enough to be able to attend, I'd like to be a pre-law major.

Who is your favorite teacher and how did He inspire you to learn? Mr. Vines is my favorite. I've had him for three years of history and government classes. The atmosphere in his classroom has always been very relaxed, and his teaching methods allow students to relate and truly understand the subject matter. He is approachable and always willing to help when students need it.

What is your most notable academic achievement? One of the best choices I made in high school was attending Missouri Scholars Academy. The program accepts 300 of Missouri's top students and places them in an environment of fun and learning at [the University of Missouri] for three weeks. In addition to meeting brilliant people and learning about unique subjects like Shakespeare and forensics, I got to see what it was like to live on a college campus. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.

What is the biggest challenge facing your generation? I believe that my generation's apathetic attitude presents its greatest challenge. I see so many people every day who have a lot of potential, and yet they refuse to live up to it. ... The fact is, my generation is facing several serious problems, and we're going to need brilliant minds to solve them. However, the general consensus that someone else will always take care of these problems and that life will always be easy and worry-free is alarming.

How do you plan to address it? This trial is a difficult one to overcome. However, keeping it in mind, I try to encourage others to be the best that they can be and to develop their unique talents. I make an effort to be aware of pressing issues in society and try to get others interested as well. It's always rewarding to see people succeed and begin to think about the world outside of high school.

What is your favorite high school memory? Halloween 2010 was definitely the best time I've had in high school.

What are your expectations for college? No matter where I end up going, I know college is going to be a blast. Although I'm excited to experience prom, graduation and all the other aspects of senior year, I also can't wait to start this new part of my life. I especially look forward to meeting new people with whom I share interests and experiencing life on my own.

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