Life’s busy when you’re a National Merit Scholar. Over lunch at Lakeville North High School, Seniors Natalie Dokken and Marcus Blackstad had a brief break to talk about their plans for college and careers, and what the National Merit Scholar honor means to them.
“Getting a scholarship to help pay for college is always a good thing,” Dokken said. “I’m going to Grinnell College in Iowa to study linguistics.”
“It’s a pretty big one,” Blackstad said. “I’m going to Gustavus Adolphus College, and I want to be a physicist. Maybe I’ll go into theoretical physics, engineering or mathematics.”
Not too shabby.
The National Merit Scholarship program, which recently awarded Dokken and Blackstad with its prestigious National Merit Scholar designation, began in 1955. Students enter the program by taking the PSAT their sophomore year. The test serves as the initial screening for approximately 1.5 million entrants. Of that total, 34,000 students receive letters of commendation for their outstanding academic promise. This year, five Lakeville North students received commendations: Alexa Balhorn, Trevor Goris, Chase Lemke, Elizabeth Minneman and Mary Richards. From the original 1.5 million who take the PSAT, 15,000 students are honored as National Merit Finalists, and 8,400 are chosen as National Merit Scholars. Dokken also has one other achievement that deserves mentioning: She achieved the second-highest score ever on the PSAT by a Lakeville area high school student.
Dean Cheryl Meger said both students are standouts at Lakeville North.
“They’re both phenomenally talented students,” Meger said. “From the moment they walked in the building it was easy to tell how conscientious they were about their course choices, and they chose rigorous classes. They also put a lot of intensity into their studies. Both students have devoted most of their time to academics here,” Meger said.
Dokken and Blackstad noted that they’ve always been good students, even when they were younger.
“My dad always used to tell me that I was going to go to Harvard and my brother was going to Yale,” Dokken laughed. “So I think it was indoctrinated into me that I had to succeed.”
“I’ve always been a good student. It’s just how I do things,” Blackstad said. “But while it’s easy sometimes to get the material, it’s a lot of work to actually get the A.”
Both students keep busy outside of school as well. Dokken enjoys exploring psychology and using its concepts in everyday life. She also dances weekly and is active in leadership at her church. Blackstad is on Tech Team, which is a technology building competition. His team got a “superior” ranking this year, which is the highest rank a team can get. They built a machine called a “block orientation machine,” which uses robotics to rotate blocks to various required positions. He is also an Eagle Scout. Both students said they enjoy school sports, but have little time to participate.
When it came to choosing where to go to school after Lakeville North, each student took their own path. Dokken did a lot of research and applied to colleges all over the country, but settled on Grinnell. Blackstad knew he wanted to be close to home, and decided on Gustavus Adolphus.
“I visited a few different colleges, but I pretty much knew I’d go to Gustavus,” Blackstad said. “Every single person in my family went there, and it has a good physics program. So it was a win-win.”
Looking back at their academic success, Dokken and Blackstad agreed that while they’ve made some sacrifices, their hard work was worth it.
“Education is just so important,” Dokken said. “I know that I’m going to a good college and I’ll get a good job and I’ll have a future. That’s the main thing. Even though I’m giving up so much of my time right now, it’ll pay off in the future.”
"If you always work hard and do you best, you never have to doubt your work,” Blackstad said. “If you worry about tests and projects you have to do, well, you didn’t prepare enough. If you do your work, you’ll be fine.”