Four local graduates earn National Merit Scholarships


By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn |

The National Merit Scholarship Corp. has announced four local winners for its 2017 college-sponsored scholarships. 

The 2017 winners are Hunter Brake of Niceville High School; Bryan Duffey of Fort Walton Beach High School; Diana LaFollette of Niceville High School; and Christia Victoriana of Pace High School.

The college-sponsored winners are among about 7,500 high school seniors who will receive the National Merit Scholarships for college undergraduate study. The scholarships are worth more than $32 million. 

Hunter Brake, Niceville High School 

Hunter was awarded an $87,360 National Merit University of Central Florida Scholarship. Hunter will study mechanical engineering this fall. 

“It feels really nice that you study for this one test, and once you get that done you don’t have to worry about college expenses anymore,” Hunter said. “I really look forward to going to UCF and meeting new people. It’ll be nice to have classes where you’re surrounded by people with the same interests as you.” 

Diana LaFollette, Niceville High School 

Diana was awarded an $8,000 National Merit University of Southern California Scholarship. She will major in chemical engineering.

“It’s really exciting,” Diana said. “I’m very appreciative and honored. It’s definitely going to help with school expenses. I’ve always been really interested in saving the world and helping the environment. I want to work with fuel cells on solar panels. I really liked AP chemistry, so I just decided to go with it.”

Niceville Principal Charlie Marello said he’s proud of both students for their hard work and accomplishments. 

“Hunter and Diana are well-rounded kids who are great ambassadors and examples of the quality of students at NHS,” Marello said. 

Bryan Duffey, Fort Walton Beach High School 

Bryan was awarded an $87,200 National Merit University of Central Florida Scholarship. Bryan’s major is undecided, although he said it will probably be some form of engineering. 

“I was overjoyed when I found out I won,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d get it. I have two older sisters who already went to college, so I was worried there wouldn’t be a lot of money or my parents would be stretched thin. I didn’t think I’d have that much money to be able to provide for my college. It feels really good.” 

Fort Walton Beach Principal John Spolski said it was special to personally see Bryan’s growth from middle school to graduation. 

“Duffey is remarkable,” Spolski said. “He’s humble and soft spoken. He was one of the students who addressed the student body during graduation. He talked about his growth both as a person and as a student. Now he’s about to go to one of the largest universities in the nation.” 

Christia Victoriano, Pace High School

Christia was awarded a $20,000 National Merit Vanderbilt University Scholarship. Christia said she plans to study mechanical engineering, although she’s keeping an open mind. 

“This scholarship has given me a lot of opportunities to help pay for school,” she said. “I’m going to Vanderbilt, and that school is pretty expensive. With the scholarship and financial aid, it made it possible. I’ve always enjoyed math and science and making things, so engineering seemed like a good fit.” 

Pace Principal Stephen Shell said he has high expectations for Christia and her future at Vanderbilt.

“She’s an amazing student and just an awesome girl,” Shell said. “Her four years here have been incredible. She’s going to do great.”