Gov. Pete Ricketts with some perfect-scoring test students at Lincoln East High School.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts honored 15 graduating high school seniors Thursday who earned perfect scores on the ACT or SAT exams.

“I know that you’re all very bright, or you wouldn’t be here,” Ricketts said in a gathering of top-scorers at Westside High School in Omaha. “But I also know that it took a lot of hard work to accomplish that.”

Two seniors earned perfect scores on both exams: Erin Cooney of Lincoln East High School and Celine Qiu of Millard North High School.

Cooney’s fraternal twin sister, Emma, also from Lincoln East, earned a perfect score on the ACT.

The twins’ dad, Gerry Cooney, said his daughters’ perfect scores did, indeed, reflect a lot of hard work.

“Truthfully, the scores are great, but it’s the work that went into it that their mom and I are most proud of,” he said.

Fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of test-takers nationally get a perfect ACT score.

The ACT exam measures a student’s knowledge of English, mathematics, reading and science. There is an optional writing section.

The SAT tests knowledge of reading, writing and math.

Both tests are used by colleges in admissions and scholarship decisions.

Jainaha Srikumar said she “power-studied” to perfection on the ACT exam.

“I sat down from morning ‘til night every day for about five days, and I just did the entire official ACT test prep book,” she said. “That was probably the best preparation there was. I just went through it, I did the tests. I looked at the mistakes I made, and I fixed them.”

She earned the perfect 36 at the end of her sophomore year at Scotus Central Catholic High School in Columbus. She transferred to Brownell-Talbot this year.

She plans to attend the University of Chicago and double-major in history and science — probably biology with a concentration on neuroscience.

“I wanted to do two things that are fairly different so I can keep myself interested,” she said.

Also perfect on the ACT exam were: Jack Bruck, Creighton Prep; Shaket Chaudhary, Westside; Jonathan Collins, Mount Michael Benedictine; Ryder Mays, Hastings; Daniel Parr, Lincoln East; Shuowei Qin, Lincoln East; Anna Russert, Lincoln Northeast; Jennifer Solheim, Westside; Anne Stratman, Duchesne Academy; and Zachary Warneke, Millard South.

Scoring perfect on the SAT was Timothy “Cooper” Knaak of Plainview, who was homeschooled.

Last year, the average ACT score in Nebraska was 21.7. The national average was 21.0.

There are about 25,300 high school seniors in Nebraska’s public and private schools this year.

The event at Westside was a homecoming for Ricketts, a 1982 Westside graduate.

Westside Principal Maryanne Ricketts — no relation — joked that she peeked at the governor’s high school record and it looked good.

“But you still owe us a chemistry book,” she said.

Ricketts told the students “don’t sweat it” if they haven’t decided on a career.

He said he started out as a biology major and worked in a protein biochemistry lab right out of college.

“That lasted about a year, and I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, and so I switched fields,” the governor said. “And look, I ended up being governor of Nebraska. You can do anything, as long as you continue to pursue it.”

Ricketts said he wasn’t sure if the top students would be going to college in or out of state. But he said he hoped they would wind up back in Nebraska.

“Wherever your career path leads, please remember that we want you back here in Nebraska,” he said. “Nebraska is the best place in the world.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1077, joe.dejka@owh.com


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