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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Skyler Edvik of Granger High School warms up for semifinal judging in the Sterling Scholars music category in West Jordan, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012.
It was fun to be recognized by the school as someone who stands out. It feels good to be appreciated. —Chase Player of Cottonwood High School

WEST JORDAN — Rachel Kearl was beaming. The East High School senior had just finished her interview and performance as a Sterling Scholars dance semifinalist and despite being slightly out of breath, she was feeling great.

"It went so well," she said. "I just felt like I could collect my thoughts because I had gotten through the hardest part."

In this case the hardest part was a dance — inspired by the way Kearl feels when sunshine hits her skin — that immediately preceded an interview about her qualifications and her extracurricular experience. Having already been named the Sterling scholar in dance for East High School, Kearl was at Copper Hills High School on Wednesday along with hundreds of other seniors from high schools along the Wasatch Front hoping to advance to the next round in the competitive scholarship program that honors the best and brightest in academic achievement.

Kearl has been dancing since she was 3 years old and for the past four years has been on scholarship with dance companies. Like many students preparing to graduate, Kearl had been evaluating her goals and asking herself whether she truly wanted to pursue dancing. When she was selected as the Sterling scholar at East High School, she said she fell a sense of affirmation and thought "today is the day."

"I just felt so accomplished and that I was worth something," she said.

Many of the semifinalists had similar stories. Sam Oleson, a semifinalist for visual arts from Jordan High School, said he has been interested in art since the time he "could draw little dinosaurs." He brought 14 pieces with him to his interview and was glad that he wouldn't be evaluated solely on his ability to communicate with the judge.

"I feel a little more comfortable being able to visualize my work," he said.

Like Kearl, Oleson said he felt validated for the work he has put into his art when he was selected to be a Sterling Scholar semifinalist.

"You get a little more chance to show your art to other people and get it out there," he said.

In addition to Copper Hills, interviews were conducted at Timpview and Northridge high schools with schools from Utah to Cache counties participating. Sterling Scholars Director Linda Stokes said that five students will be selected as finalists in each of the 13 categories — which range from the visual arts to the hard sciences — with another round of interviews being held Feb. 29 at Woods Cross High School. At each level, the prestige and scholarship assistance increase.

"Being a Sterling scholar is a big deal," Stokes said.

Chase Player of Cottonwood High School said he was "a little bit" nervous before his interview. He is a semifinalist in the business and marketing category and said he was honored to be representing his classmates.

"It was fun to be recognized by the school as someone who stands out," he said. "It feels good to be appreciated."

Hollie Seegmiller, a family and consumer sciences semifinalist from Copper Hills said she was anxious waiting for her turn but felt confident during her interview:

"I surprisingly felt comfortable. I wasn't nervous when I got in there," she said.

Seegmiller is the club president of Copper Hills' Family, Career and Community Leaders of America and said she was thrilled when she was named.

"I felt kind of elated, kind of on my own cloud," she said.

Stokes said finalists will be announced this morning and will be posted on sterlingscholar.org and deseretnews.com. Regional Sterling Scholars will be named at an awards ceremony at Cottonwood High School on March 21 with KSL-TV's Nadine Wimmer acting as master of ceremonies.

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