These are the 18 National Merit Finalists from my high school class. I’m in the back row near the middle and my brother is further to the left (he’s older than I am but we both graduated the same year). The girl in the front row second from the left was my prom date and first girlfriend :-)
In contrast to the current obsession with elite higher education, most of these kids attended public universities. The guy to my left turned down Cornell to attend Iowa State, the guy to my right went to Princeton, one of the girls in the front went to Stanford. There might have been someone who went to Chicago, but I can’t remember for sure. There were several other smart kids who missed the Semi-Finalist cut on the PSAT but got equivalently high SAT scores. One of those kids turned down Caltech for Illinois (I think), and another went to Stanford and Columbia Law and is now the outside counsel for my current startup.
By my last year in high school I was spending the afternoons at the university. I took quantum mechanics, a course on ODEs/PDEs, a semester of complex analysis, and a semester of senior level advanced calculus before heading off to college. (I’ve actually never had a linear algebra class – I just studied it by myself.) That was pretty exceptional for those days – I was the first kid at my high school to have such an arrangement. These days I think schools are more open to acceleration. I think there are a few kids every year from Eugene high schools who take advanced math at Oregon. I actually took my first college course (in the comp sci department – punch cards!) when I was 12.
Having a flexible schedule turned out to be a bad thing for my swimming career. I was so tired from two practices a day and all of that homework from the college classes that sometimes I’d skip afternoon lectures at the university and go home and sleep before practice. My coach noticed I wasn’t having a good taper at the end of the season and I had to admit it was because I had been getting too much rest during the high volume part of our training!
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