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Smarts pay off for high school senior

Student receives full ride to Western Illinois University

STERLING – The biggest thing Duncan Gingrich will have to worry about next year at Western Illinois University is selecting a course of study.

Duncan, 18, a senior at Sterling High School, is among the recipients of the new Centennial Honors Scholarship, which covers 4 years of tuition and fees and a residence hall room at the college in Macomb.

High school students who score a 32 or higher on the ACT and with a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher are eligible for the scholarship.

Duncan was targeted as potentially eligible for the scholarship late last summer, between his junior and senior years; his grade-point average was high enough, but his ACT score lagged a bit.

He retook the test, scored higher and instantly was in the running for the 4-year scholarship. He just had to accept it.

Duncan had applied to North Central College in Naperville and Northwestern University in Evanston. But North Central was not the right school for him, and Northwestern did not accept him.

So, he had to switch gears. His parents, Matt and Teresa Gingrich, encouraged him to consider Western Illinois University; after all, a full-ride scholarship was there for the taking.

The family visited the college in March. They planned a one-on-one visit, as opposed to a group campus tour, to learn about the school.

“Previously, I was apathetic to it,” Duncan said. “But once we got there, I was impressed ... and by the end of the day, I was sold.”

His parents were impressed, too.

The admissions staff were welcoming. The professors were interesting. The campus was aesthetically pleasing.

The college basically made it difficult for Duncan to return home without committing to 4 years as a Bulldog in the purple and gold, the family said.

He always has been gifted, his parents said.

“When they took the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills [in elementary school], his scores were in the 98th, 99th percentile nationally,” said Matt, a career adviser for Partners for Employment in Sterling. “After conversations with his teachers, we learned he was even a little more advanced than we realized.”

“Part of the reason for his success is he has God-given talent,” added Teresa, a third-grade teacher at St. Mary School in Dixon. “He’s used that, we’ve nurtured that, and his teachers along the way have nurtured that, too.”

Gingrich has a base and breadth of knowledge that is unmatched by his peers, his English teacher, Dana Francis, said.

“He is really unlike almost any student I’ve ever had in that he’s very intelligent but he also has a knowledge of culture that goes beyond what a normal student might have. He can reference things that are obscure or historically based or make Freudian allusions and no one will get it but me and maybe a couple other students.”

Duncan knows he is a smart cookie, but he keeps his abilities in perspective. He isn’t an overachiever; he does exactly what he wants to do and knows he can handle.

He’s been involved in Scholastic Bowl (since middle school) and has a service learning project with the Golden Warriors broadcasts of football, volleyball, basketball, baseball/softball and soccer games. He also is a member of the National Honor Society and sings in the choir.

“I’m realistic,” he said.

His parents support that mentality.

“As a parent, no matter how your child does in school, you have to look at their strengths and weaknesses and what their interests are, and then guide them in that direction,” Teresa said. “You have to encourage but not force. They’ll be what they’re meant to be.”

Duncan, the oldest of three siblings, is looking forward to college – especially the independence. He has not yet decided on a major, but he is interested in writing and is considering journalism – a field to which his teacher believes he is well suited.

“He has a gift for language,” Francis said. “He was the only one of my students last year who took the [Advanced Placement] test and got a top score. He has an amazing vocabulary and control of syntax and word choice that would suit him well as a writer.”

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