In some ways, Reef Landrum and John Galjanic are ordinary kids — they like exploring on their bikes, shooting hoops and spearfishing. In other ways, they are extraordinary, both at the top of their academic game.

Both young men, seniors at Marathon High School, have been named semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship competition. Only 16,000 students are selected nationwide, and only about half of those will win a scholarship. And although the honor comes with a financial prize, Reef and John want to win for another reason.

“It’s really good to have on a college application,” Reef said.

Reef has a list of top schools that includes University of Florida, Florida State University, MIT and Harvard. What he’ll study will depend on the college, though it will have something to do with science or engineering.

John is more definite. He wants to attend Embry Riddle in Daytona and become an aerospace engineer.

“I’d love to send something into space,” he said.

Only five students in the Keys were nominated for the award: John, Reef and three students at Coral Shores High School. Even so, Reef and John downplay their economic prowess and profess not to know their exact grade point average, each looking to the other for the answer. (“Believe me, it’s way up there,” said MHS Principal Wendy McPherson.) In fact, when asked about an area in which they struggle … well, both of them struggled with the question before breaking out into disarming grins.

“John was the Sunshine State Scholar in 2013,” Reef said.


“And Reef got first place in the science fair in 2012,” John said.

“What was that for again?” Reef asked.

“Remember? You did that thing on growing plants,” John said.

“Oh, that’s right! I suffocated plants,” Reef said. “Or more accurately, I studied the plants under conditions of C02 deprivation.”

John and Reef also participate in the school’s mock trial program and academic challenge. The National Merit Scholarship finalists will be announced in April and May.

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Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.