The path to Elijah Cavalier’s academic prowess may be easily family-traced. He’s proudly taking his own steps on that journey, though.

Cavalier – a Union City High School senior – has been named as a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist after scoring in the top 1 percent of more than 1.5 million students nationwide to take the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). He and other academically talented high school seniors across the county who made the semifinal list are now in competition for more than 76,000 scholarships worth more than $31 million in the 65th annual program.

Cavalier is just the second known Union City student in the past 25 years to put himself in the elite category of distinguished students across the nation. Jacob Virgin was the first, two years ago. With a 4.0 GPA and having made 35 on the ACT – just one point short of perfection -- Cavalier’s credentials made him a likely candidate for the prestigious accomplishment. And with a family background of academic excellence that includes a mother (Dr. Carol Cavalier) who has an Ivy League doctorate as well as two master's degrees and a father (Dr. Phil Cavalier), the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Tennessee at Martin, one might assume continued household scholastic achievement has always been insisted upon. Not necessary, according to Elijah.

“I’ve never been pressured by my parents to meet certain goals or expectations academically just because they have,” he said. “That’s not to say if they saw me not giving my best, they wouldn’t say something to me about that. “But I’ve pushed myself. I’m challenging myself. This (accomplishment) has more to do with where I go in the future. It’s just another step. It’s certainly not a final goal.”

That next “step” will hopefully be a perfect ACT score and then higher education at Swarthmore (Pa.) College, a national high-ranking private liberal arts school. Both his father and the oldest of Elijah’s two brothers also attended there.

Again, his college choice had little to do with family or their influence, however. “It’s just more of a coincidence (that my father and older brother went there),” Cavalier said. “It has rigorous academics and the environment of the campus really was impressive.” “It basically just gives me another opportunity to forge ahead on my own. There will be some independence gained there and I’ll have the opportunity to make my own path.”

Elijah, whose school activities sheet includes the Ethics Bowl, Beta Club, Boys State and Governor’s School, among other involvements, has already completed six Honors and four AP (Advanced Placement) courses in two years at UC High School. He is taking four more AP classes in his senior year.

“I think it’s fun to have a variety of AP classes. It’s more challenging for me,” he said. The Merit Scholar test is different from the ACT and is made up mostly of reading and writing with some math. It is recommended at UCHS for those who take Honors and Advanced Placement classes at the school. To be considered for a Merit Scholarship award, semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the finalist level of the competition. Those winners will be announced in the spring of 2021. Roughly 16,000 semifinalists across the nation from more than 21,000 high schools entered the program.

UCHS Principal Jacob Cross and guidance counselor Susan Searcy each spoke glowingly of both Cavalier’s academic prowess and his character in their celebration of his feat. “Elijah is a top-notch young man who has challenged himself with the toughest classes we have to offer here at Union City High School,” Cross claimed. “He’s always had a great attitude and he’s very competitive academically. “We’re obviously extremely proud of him and for him.” Searcy said: “He’s just an awesome young man. He’s just what you want in a student in your school – he’s kind, respectful, humble and he can talk to both his fellow students and any adult in any setting.”

The National Merit Scholarship winners will be announced in four nationwide news releases in 2021, the first coming in April and the last in July.