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National Merit is student's latest honor

9/29/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

He wants to be a physics teacher when he grows up, but not just any physics teacher.

Christopher Rooney has aspirations of becoming a physics professor. And judging from what the Hays teenager has achieved in his first 17 years, it's easy to believe that will happen -- and sooner than later.

Rooney has a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, scored a 34 on his ACT test and learned the computer program language Java last summer as part of a hobby.

The Hays High School senior this fall added another impressive line to his list of accomplishments.

Rooney learned earlier this month he is a National Merit semifinalist, keeping alive a consecutive string of at least one Hays High student being named semifinalists or commended students since 1997.

HHS also had a commended student this year in Corinne Ziegler. Both were honored at this weekend's 2012 homecoming activities, including Friday's pep assembly at the high school and in Friday's parade down Main Street.

Students can gauge a guess how they might have placed by comparing their score to those of the year before, although the qualifying scores do change some each year.

"I kind of had my suspicions," that he made the cut, Rooney said, "but it was really exciting yet when I got an email from my counselor."

Making Rooney's accomplishment even more impressive is the fact he's the lone semifinalist in the western half of the state this year.

Those who have worked with Rooney the past four years aren't surprised.

"He's is a very capable young man," said Kathy Spicer, Rooney's guidance counselor at Hays High since he moved to Hays before his freshman year.

Rooney doesn't just rely on his intelligence and natural abilities, though, Spicer said, adding "He works very hard."

Joan Crull, Rooney's orchestra teacher, agreed.

"He's so focused, very hard-working," Crull said of Rooney, who is a member of the HHS Scholars Bowl team and has participated in the science fair at FHSU and also plays cello in the orchestra.

Currently, Rooney is practicing for the Hays High musical, "Li'l Abner," while at the same time tackling such classes such as Calculus II at Fort Hays State University, where he will take Calc III the spring semester.

"He's done exceptionally well," Spicer said, "but he's earned it."

Rooney admitted he wasn't so sure of the move his family made -- he has two younger siblings -- from the Kansas City just as he was ready to enter high school when his dad got a job at Sunflower Electric in Hays.

"Way out here to a smaller town, I didn't know what to expect," said Rooney, whose short list of colleges he hopes to attend are the University of Kansas, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Colorado School of Mines.

"But some of the opportunities I have here might not have happened there," Rooney said. "The competition would have been so much higher" in the Shawnee Mission school district, where he would have attended high school had he not moved to Hays.

As a commended student, Ziegler finished in the top 5 percent of more than 1.5 million students who took the PSAT test as juniors.

About 90 percent of the semifinalists (who are in the top 1 percent of high school seniors) attain finalist standing, with more than half of them earning National Merit Scholarships.

Spicer knows she will have to find that out from someone else besides Rooney.

"He's so modest," she said.

"You would never know about the things he wins," Crull agreed. "He wouldn't tell you."