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Five Students Named National Merit Finalists

group of national merit finalists with counselors and principalsMarch 12, 2024

Seniors Vasile Balouris, Jocelyn Curreri, Nicolai Ezolt, Liam Francis and Ben Lyons were recently named finalists by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

In September, these students were named semifinalists based on earning some of the highest scores nationwide on the PSAT/NMSQT out of over two million test takers. The five students have earned this additional finalist commendation by maintaining a consistent record of very high academic performance, demonstrated leadership, written essays and receiving a school official’s written recommendation and characterization, and now will be considered for over 7,000 National Merit scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000.

“These students rank in the top 15,000 in the United States, a remarkable number. It’s something for us to be very proud of,” said Dr. Frank Hernandez, principal of Pine-Richland High School. “What’s more impressive is what each student has accomplished inside and outside of the classroom.”

Learn more about each student below and in this video »

Vasile Balouris

headshot of studentVasile was a captain on both the varsity football and basketball teams, is a four-year member of student government and is vice president of his church’s youth association. Earlier this year, Vasile was named to the Steelers All-Peer Team. Next year, Vasile plans to study mechanical engineering at a four-year college. 

Regarding his National Merit Finalist status, Vasile said, “It’s very reassuring to me of the work I’ve put in in high school, and I’m very appreciative to be recognized for it.” 



Jocelyn Curreri

Headshot of studentJocelyn plans to become a doctor, and next year will study biology at a four-year college with a possible dual major or minor in political science or history. In addition to her academic success, Jocelyn is the cofounder and president of the Asian Culture Club, serves as an officer and team captain in Mock Trial, participates in archery and interned with U.S. Representative Chris Deluzio.

“This award is encouragement to keep challenging myself in the future,” Jocelyn said, adding, “My favorite thing about Pine-Richland is the community I’ve met here. Both the students and teachers have motivated me to become who I am today.”




Nicolai Ezolt

headshot of studentAn aspiring math teacher, Nicolai plans to attend the University of Pittsburgh next year. Nicolai is active in marching band and theater, which he notes have been his favorite experiences at Pine-Richland. He led this year’s marching band as a drum major, and starred in the fall play The Man Who Came to Dinner as Sheridan Whiteside, for which he received a Prime Stage Drama Awards Best Actor nomination. He will play Bill in the upcoming musical production of Mamma Mia! Nicolai is part of an Odyssey of the Mind team that placed second in the world championship last year and will head to the state finals next month. 

“This award is so important to me,” Nicolai said. “I feel so lucky to be part of such a talented group of kids. To be surrounded by all that talent and diversity is really something special.”



Liam Francis

headshot of studentLiam says it was his experience with a physics class at Pine-Richland that inspired him to pursue a degree in physics next year at the University of Notre Dame. Liam is a fourth-year varsity rower with the crew team and has played violin with the orchestra since middle school. Liam is also an Eagle Scout and built an outdoor classroom at Wexford Elementary School for his Eagle Scout project. 

“National Merit Finalist status feels rewarding,” Liam said. “It recognizes the hard work I’ve done in and out of the classroom.”




Ben Lyons

headshot of studentIn addition to playing defenseman on the varsity lacrosse team, Ben is president of the Environmental Club and is involved with Spanish Club, Programming Club and the annual Hack the Ram event. He notes that his favorite part about Pine-Richland is the community: “No matter who you are and what you like to do, there is a place for every person in the school.”

Next year, Ben plans to study mechanical engineering at a four-year college and is already thinking about possibly attending graduate school. National Merit Finalist status “means opportunity,” Ben said. “It could open up a lot of scholarships and schools.”