Valentine’s Day is no longer just a day for lovers for Gisele Lachman. It was on Feb. 14 that she was notified that she was chosen as a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, placing her among the top one percent of the nation’s brightest and most promising students. The Oyster Bay High School senior is among 15,000 finalists vying for three types of scholarships — a National Merit $2,500 Scholarship, a corporate-sponsored award or a college-sponsored award. Of the 15,000 finalists, about 7,600 scholarship winners will be announced in the spring.
There were several requirements to be considered for the scholarship competition, including an essay. “We had to write about a time in our lives when we were challenged,” said Gisele, who is 17. “For me it was when I was away at Yale for a summer enrichment program. I had to create a start-up company and was told the third day that my idea wasn’t any good. And it was too late to start over.”
Her idea, shoe insoles with pressure displacement that would count the wearer’s steps, ended up winner her second prize.
Selection as a National Merit Finalist is based on a stellar academic record and participation in school and community activities. Additionally, one needs to have leadership capabilities and have received honors and awards during all four years of high school. And candidates must earn outstanding scores on the Scholarship Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
Gisele earned a 1530 on her SAT, which places her in the 99th percentile among her peers. And she’s also well rounded, having served as the student council president for three years and as a member of several high school athletic teams including varsity cross country, varsity winter track and varsity spring track. She is also a youth leader in St. Dominic’s Church Youth Group.
“It’s always been my goal to be well rounded,” Gisele said. “Education was a priority but I wanted to have a healthy relationship with the community. And my brother Zachery, who is a freshman, is really smarter than me.”
Modest and intelligent, but there is more to Gisele. She wants to better the world.
“The motto at Wharton Business School, which Gisele is hoping to attend, is to teach students how to use business investments to better the world,” said Donna, Gisele’s mother. “But her strongest attributes are that she is very kind, smart and extremely detailed in her thinking. She’s beautiful outside and inside.”
Gisele wants to major in finance in college, particularly in impact investing. She’d like to advise people on developing investments and develop finance strategies that give back a return. “But it also needs to be a non-monetary return,” she said, “that helps the community.”
She has always been intelligent, said Donna. She and her husband Raj wanted Gisele to have a foundation that included an understanding of team spirit, to have good work ethics and master time management skills. Perhaps this background led Gisele to find a method to enhance what she had innately.
According to Gisele, one doesn’t need to be smart to do well in school. “I could teach people how to do school,” she said. “You have to have a method. Focus on your weaknesses and never lose sight of your goals.”
And also, be able to step back from stress and realize what you need to do and do it calmly, she added.
Running has always helped Gisele to conquer stress. And she’s good at it too. When she was in the 8th grade she was so fast the coach moved her to the varsity team.
“I’ve always loved my team. We are so close,” Gisele said. “Running releases stress. Instead of going home and studying I can release stress and re-center.”
Her father is a certified public accountant and a chief financial officer who manages a hedge fund. He couldn’t be prouder of Gisele. “I think of her as my little angel and have always thought of her as my Harvard baby,” he said. “She has always worked very hard and been very focused. I always say, ‘Go kill it every day,’ and she always did.”
Gisele, who is taking college level French, said she loves school. “I like to learn,” she said. “I think learning is really important and to be able to talk and have a background on all things, not just what you want to do is also important.”
It’s possible, she also said, to use experiences in high school to configure who you become.
“The busiest time on student council is organizing homecoming,” she said. “You have to get all of the grades involved and on homecoming day there are all the floats to manage. Being a part of student council shaped my time management skills. It also helped me with socialization. I’ve met so many different types of people.”
Studying music also helped her, she said. Gisele began playing the piano when she was four years old. “Having to memorize notes helped me develop so many skills early,” she said.
Gisele is looking forward to attending college. Her advice for success is as follows: “You have to have a healthy, supportive environment and want to push yourself,” she said. “And you have to be o.k. with having pressure on you.”