By Dave Ongie
When Taylor Canfield became a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship Program last year, she didn’t just blaze another trail for her younger brother Justin – she also raised the bar.
Justin Canfield has been following in his sister’s footsteps since sixth grade when Taylor was accepted into an advanced academic program offered by their middle school. It was then that he was filled with a deep desire to accomplish the same thing.
According to Justin, that was the beginning of what has become a healthy sibling rivalry.
“For a while, I’ve been seeing what my sister can accomplish, and I kind of want to do the same things,” he said. “It definitely helps to see what she’s able to do. That kind of makes it easy on me. She kind of lays the path and shows what’s possible.”
So when this year’s list of National Merit semifinalists was announced, it should have come as no surprise that Justin Canfield was among five Science Hill students on the list. Canfield, a senior, was joined by fellow Hilltoppers Zeyun Wang, Isaac Wright, Molly-Kate Hance and Clay Wheeler.
“This is just another path she took that I followed in,” Justin said. “It’s always been (a competition) between us, and our parents have always pushed that, too. Not to pit us against each other, but to encourage us.”
It’s easy to see how Justin sees the relationship with his older sister as being competitive – she sets the bar and he tries to clear it. But from Taylor Canfield’s perspective, their relationship is more of a partnership. Taylor, who is just starting her freshman year at the University of Alabama, marvels at her brother’s intelligence and credits him for helping her set the benchmarks he strives for.
“He has a lot more innate intelligence than I do, that’s for sure” Taylor said. “Justin and I have always kind of been studying buddies. We prepared for the ACT together as well as studied for math classes that we shared. The fact that he succeeded just as I did made me feel as if we had accomplished something together.”
Without a doubt, the Canfield siblings are incredibly intelligent. But they both are adamant that intelligence alone isn’t enough to achieve the level of academic success they’ve both enjoyed. Taylor credits the willingness to step outside of her comfort zone and a willingness to work hard as factors that cleared her path to Alabama.
“While intelligence is a great gift to have, what truly makes someone successful is the work they put in to accomplish the goals they have,” she said. “Along with hard work, you have to push yourself to do things that make you uncomfortable.
“Some of the best experiences I had while in high school were the result of me putting aside my fears and going for it.”
For Justin, establishing good study skills was a challenge early on in his academic career, but he has worked hard to make improvements in that area. He also said getting involved in extracurricular activities was a major key to his success. When the Canfields moved from Ohio to Johnson City prior to Justin’s freshman year, joining Science Hill’s cross country team opened a lot of doors.
“I didn’t do much except for cross country, and that really helped me find a way in,” he said. “Then I started joining clubs, and that really helped.”
Now that Justin is among roughly 16,000 high schools students around the country who earned the title of National Honor semifinalists, he has a chance to blaze a trail of his own by becoming a finalist. That will require an SAT score as well as the submission of his transcript for review.
Regardless of the outcome, Justin could very well find himself following in his sister’s footsteps once again come next fall. Among the colleges he is considering is the University of Alabama, where Taylor has been accepted into the Randall Research Scholars Program.
As usual, Taylor wishes her brother well.
“I wish the best of luck to him and hope he becomes a finalist,” she said.