Helena Magazine

Helena’s Sydney Risch juggles a lot, including National Merit Semifinalist status

Published 1:54 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

By MEG HERNDON | Staff Writer

Whether the ringing in of the New Year signifies starting fresh or a persistent tug motivates some to aspire to constant growth, setting and reaching goals is a core part of life for many. And the same can be said for Sydney Risch, a Helena High School senior and National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist who tested within the top one percent nationally.

Like most students before her, Sydney took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test in her junior year of high school. Juniors are typically required to take the nationwide test for their school’s assessment or as a state requirement.

“It’s something that I knew wasn’t out of my reach,” Sydney said. “I took the PSAT in the 10th grade to get an idea of what the test was. I feel that my ACT preparation did help prepare me some, even though they are two different tests.”

The highly competitive nature of the test drew Sydney in and inspired her to do her best, but none of it was stressful, she said.

“I would say there was more stress post-PSAT because it was a waiting game to find out if I was a semi-finalist,” Sydney said. “I had some idea after receiving my scores, but it was never official until I received the letter.”

Sydney said her parents have been there through it all as her biggest support system as they were the only ones who knew that becoming a National Merit Semifinalist was a goal of hers.

“They helped encourage me leading up to the test and told me to relax afterward since I had to wait almost a year for the results,” she said. “They also told me they were proud of me no matter what.”

Since she was a child, Sydney has always enjoyed learning. Having grown up in Helena her entire life, she was eager and excited at the prospect of being taught new subjects and concepts. As a child she even enjoyed homework, however, with a very involved extracurricular life, Sydney admits that now homework is not something she looks forward to.

She keeps busy with many titles under her belt including Vice President of the student body at Helena High School. Additionally, she is on the varsity track team and holds the school record for the girl’s pole vault, serves as an ambassador for the school and acts as the secretary for the group, is a peer helper, a member of the math team and is in numerous honor societies in school. And if that wasn’t enough, she serves on the Youth Council at the Church at Cahaba Bend.

If it isn’t apparent yet, Sydney summed up her driven, hardworking personality herself, “I am passionate about being the best at whatever I decide to do.”

Becoming a National Merit Semifinalist has opened many doors for Sydney, with full scholarships being offered to her from multiple institutions, however, the school she wishes to attend does not offer that benefit based on the PSAT. Sydney plans to attend Auburn University in the fall and wants to major in chemistry education. Obviously not one to shy away from a challenge, Sydney said she is looking forward to the new experiences that college has to offer.

“I’m excited to be on my own and have more opportunities to meet new people and get involved in new activities,” she said.

Setting a goal is the easy part, every unfulfilled New Year’s resolution proves that achieving those goals is the tougher task at hand. However, Sydney shows how all one needs is hard work and persistence to accomplish whatever one sets their mind to.

This upcoming fall many juniors will sit where Sydney sat and take the PSAT, either hoping to be a National Merit Scholarship themselves or not. To those that do hope to see themselves where Sydney is next year, she shared a word of advice.

“If it is something you know you want, I recommend taking the PSAT in the 10th grade so you know what to expect in the 11th grade,” she said. “If you’re not good at taking these types of tests, you could always get a PSAT practice booklet, but the main thing is to not stress going into it, because, in reality, qualifying comes down to a question or two.”