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Harmony Conner Among Country's High School Academic Elite as a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist

            Cleburne High School’s Harmony Conner is among an elite group of academically talented seniors from across the United States to be named a 2023 National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist.

            From the 1.3 million students who took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test in 2021, Conner now finds herself among the 1.2 percent being honored as semifinalists—and eligible to continue to the finalist level of competition.

            Conner received some advance notice of exciting things to come last spring in a notification from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

            “I was informed that I had qualified for the scholarship program, based on my score,” she said. “I knew my score was high enough that I would at least be Commended. I looked online and saw the index score cutoffs by state, and I knew mine was high enough to be in the top percentile. But I also saw the announcements for those named Commended or Semifinalists would not be made until September. I thought, ‘oh no—I want to know now!’”

            “I had an inkling, and have been waiting and waiting—and waiting,” Conner said. “On the 13th, I found out officially. Our principal, Mr. Renner, called me out of economics class to come to his office. When I got there, he handed me a book listing the semifinalists from Texas. He told me to find Cleburne, but I was shaking so badly I couldn’t turn the pages.”

            Together, they completed the task and the 16-year-old saw her name for the first time.

            “It was so exciting,” she said. “I wound up spending the rest of class talking about my plans for college with Mr. Renner. I think he was just as excited as I was. I left his office feeling very proud of myself. It made for a really good school day.”

Conner came to CHS in her junior year and quickly established herself in theater arts. She portrayed the Mayor of the Munchkins in the school’s fall musical of The Wizard of Oz while also performing in the chorus as a snowflake, a Jitterbug and a Winkie from the land of Oz.

            “I was also a Winkie in the eighth grade,” she said. “They used cheap paint that stained our faces green—and didn’t wash off. Our costumes were cardboard. I said I would be a Winkie again only if we had real costumes.”

            Conner’s acting—and dancing--caught the eyes of judges who came to Cleburne for a Wizard of Oz performance, as CHS was among the participants in the 2021-2022 Dallas High School Summer Musicals awards program. Conner was selected as a nominee for the Outstanding Featured Performer Award.  

            “It was an honor, and amazing, to get noticed for my efforts,” she said. “The opportunity to perform before thousands at the Dallas contest, which included directors and talent scouts, was nerve wracking—in a good way. It was such a great experience and I’m so hopeful for a group of Cleburne students to be selected this year.”

            At the UIL District One Act Play Contest in March, Conner received the Best Performer Award for her leading role in “A Monster Calls.” She will be back on stage this fall in the CHS Fine Arts musical production of Shrek.

            Theater Arts teacher Keli Price is very pleased to see one of her thespians among the nation’s high school academic elite. Price knows well the level of achievement in Conner’s recognition. Her son, Cleburne graduate Austin Price, received National Merit Commended honors in 2018.

            “Harmony is a treasure,” Price said. “She has overcome unbelievable obstacles.  She is talented beyond measure, and smart as they come!  She holds herself and others around her to a very high standard. It didn’t surprise me even a little that she was on to semifinalist in National Merit. That’s just who Harmony is. She is going to push to be the best she can in whatever she does.”

            Conner brings a level of gratitude, respect and passion for life not often witnessed in the typical teenager. At age ten, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which affects the body’s germ-fighting immune system.

            “The diagnosis came with a higher survival rate, and I became a participant in a clinical trial that spring,” Conner said. “That same year—that fall—I was declared in remission after one summer of treatments.”

“I was so young, knowing I had this condition didn’t impact me as much as it inspired my curiosity,” she said. “It made me want to know more about the human body, and what it meant if my hemoglobin was low. One of the saddest things about it is I cannot donate blood because I’m classified as having a blood cancer.”

Conner’s condition continues to be monitored. She is going on six years cancer-free.

            “I think I have more of a respect for life,” she said. “I had friends in the hospital who have passed. It’s very important to me to make life enjoyable. I’m very passionate about anything I do—I do things with all of me. It can be exhausting, and very rewarding. I put all of me into everything I do—it’s important to me.”

            What is also important to Conner is helping others. She is leaning toward a career in education—and is also considering going to law school.

            “I want to help people,” she said. “I think that’s why I want to work with special needs children—besides the fact that kids are cool. I work with children at my church. I’m also in Lifeskills Theater and PE Partners at school.”

            “I’m planning to major in Interdisciplinary Studies,” she said. “I want to study a mix of psychology, with an emphasis on special needs education. I’d like to minor in Spanish, with electives in theater.”

            She would love to teach at the high school level—at Cleburne High School. After attending several schools through the years, Conner says CHS has been her best school experience.

            “Coming here as a junior, it was so great to have a new start and make new friends,” she said. “It was an awesome opportunity for me. I’ve switched schools several times growing up. Cleburne High School is my home. I love it so much—that’s why I would like to come back here to teach.”

            With a younger sister and brother attending CHS, Conner has chosen to stay close to home as she begins post-secondary study. The University of Texas at Arlington is her school of choice.

            “UTA is where my mom received her bachelor’s degree,” Conner said. “I’m definitely excited to be going there as well. It will be awesome to be close to home and be back to visit people—and do my laundry at home. My siblings’ high school careers are very important to me. I want to be there for them. Being the oldest sibling, I’ve done my fair share of raising them.”

            The CHS senior, who describes her Pre-Calculus class as “super fun,” says the National Merit recognition hasn’t quite sunk in. Conner was honored by Trustees at Monday’s school board meeting.

            “I don’t think it has really hit me as to how big of a deal this really is,” she said. “Even though I can have severe anxiety about a lot of things, I have always been a good test taker. I say I got really lucky. I’m very grateful to my mom, who has been my teacher and there for me throughout all this and my dad, who has been so supportive.”

            Conner is now on the last leg of her journey to become a National Merit Scholarship winner in completing the finalist application, with the deadline coming up quickly. She is also the recipient of the College Board National Rural and Small Town Award for her performance in the classroom and on the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

            “I’ve been all about high school, doing a good job and going on to college,” she said. “In middle school, I was very obsessed about my grades because I was considered the smart girl. As I’ve gotten older and classes have been more enjoyable, my anxiety about grades has gone down—because I know I can do it. I’m my worst critic and have very high expectations for myself. I want an A.”

            “Now, college is almost here,” Conner said. “I expect to thrive. I’m looking forward to learning about things I love.”