Record number of Beaufort County students honored as National Merit semifinalists for 2023

BEAUFORT– Nine Beaufort County School District students have been announced as semifinalists in the 2023 National Merit Scholarship Program and will advance to the next level of competition.

Selected as national semifinalists were Michael Dennison and Susan Livesay (Beaufort High), McKenzie Morgan and Jason Ni (Bluffton High), Cynthia Gudaitis and Benjamin Lewis (Hilton Head High), and Sarah Nunez, Lucy Peltz, and Brooks van Esselstyn (May River High).

These students entered the 2023 National Merit Scholarship Program competition by taking the 2021 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. They are part of the nationwide pool of semifinalists that includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state, placing them in the top one percent of all U.S. high school seniors.

As semifinalists, they will compete with 16,000 national finalists for 7,250 college scholarships worth nearly $28 million.

These are nine extraordinary students, I am confident they will represent Beaufort County exceptionally well in the next phases of this national competition.


In order to become a finalist, each semifinalist and their high school must now submit a detailed application that provides information about the student’s academic record, participation in school and community activities, leadership abilities, employment, and honors and awards.  In addition, each semifinalist must be endorsed and recommended by an official from their high school, write an essay, and earn SAT or ACT scores that confirm the student’s earlier score on the qualifying test.

The National Merit Scholarship Corp. is a nonprofit established in 1955, and its scholarships are underwritten by NMSC with its own funds and more than 340 businesses and higher education institutions.

Seventh Annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival Scheduled For October 28th to 30th

The Pat Conroy Literary Festival began as Pat Conroy’s 70th birthday celebration in October 2015 and now continues as an annual signature event of the nonprofit Pat Conroy Literary Center. This year’s Conroy Festival will be held on October 28th through 30th as a series of free and ticketed events in Beaufort and Bluffton featuring author discussions, writers workshops, a storytelling and musical performance, and a screening of the film Conrack in honor of the 50th anniversary of Pat Conroy’s 1972 teaching memoir The Water Is Wide. 

Advance registration for all events is now open at

This year’s presenting authors and workshop instructors include journalist and novelist Thrity Umrigar, author of Honor; Edgar Award-winning novelist and founder of The Moth, George Dawes Green, author of The Kingdoms of Savannah; four winners of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction: Nathan Harris, author of The Sweetness of Water,  De’Shawn Charles Winslow, author of In West Mills, Bren McClain, author of One Good Mama Bone, and Mindy Friddle, author of Secret Keepers; memoirist Judy Goldman, author of Child; Will You Grow founder Angelique Medow; Pat Conroy’s Beaufort High School student Valerie Sayers, author of The Age of Infidelity; Conroy’s Daufuskie Island student Sallie Ann Robinson, author of Sallie Ann Robinson’s Kitchen; and children’s authors Rebecca Dwight Bruff, author of Stars of Wonder, and Susan Montanari, author of The Halloween Tree.


3:00-4:30 p.m.: AUTHOR EVENT: Panel discussion with four winners of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction: Nathan Harris (The Sweetness of Water), De’Shawn Charles Winslow (In West Mills), Bren McClain (One Good Mama Bone), and Mindy Friddle (Secret Keepers). Book signing to follow, at the USC Beaufort Center for the Arts (free event, donations welcome)

5:00-6:15 p.m.: THE WATER IS WIDE PANEL DISCUSSION: Honoring the 50th anniversary of Pat Conroy’s 1972 teaching memoir The Water Is Wide, the panel discussion will include Conroy’s Daufuskie Island student turned celebrity chef and cultural historian Sallie Ann Robinson, historian Larry Rowland, and two of Conroy’s teaching colleagues, George Westerfield and Peter Walter, moderated by Ellen Malphrus, at the USC Beaufort Center for the Arts (free event, donations welcome)

6:45-9:00 p.m.: FILM SCREENING OF CONRACK, also featuring live vocal performances by Marlena Smalls, teacher recognitions, and a new scholarship announcement, at the USC Beaufort Center for the Arts (free event, donations welcome)


11:00-noon: VIRTUAL AUTHOR EVENT: Judy Goldman, author of the memoir Child, live-streamed on the Conroy Center’s Facebook page and also accessible on Zoom with advance registration. (free event, donations welcome)

1:00-2:30 p.m.: AUTHOR EVENT: Thrity Umrigar, author of the novel Honor, in conversation with Margaret Evans. Book signing to follow, at the USC Beaufort Center for the Arts (free event, donations welcome)

2:30-4:00 p.m.: AUTHOR EVENT: George Dawes Green, author of the novel The Kingdoms of Savannah, in conversation with Scott Graber. Book signing to follow, at the USC Beaufort Center for the Arts (free event, donations welcome)

7:00-9:45 p.m.: STORYTELLING EVENT: With Moth founder George Dawes Green, featuring MC Jon Goode, Scott Gibbs and the Beaufort Mass Choir, Alibis with Peter Zamuka and Steve Faulkner, plus several local storytellers. Followed by a champagne and cake reception celebrating the Moth’s 25th anniversary, at the USC Beaufort Center for the Arts ($25/person, $10/student discount)


2:00-3:30 p.m.: AUTHOR EVENT: Children’s Authors Rebecca Dwight Bruff (Stars of Wonder) and Susan Montanari (The Halloween Tree) in conversation with Sally Sue Lavigne of the Storybook Shoppe. Book signing to follow, at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church of Bluffton (free event, donations welcome)

The 7th Annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival is made possible by the generous support and collaboration of the Robert S. Handler Trust, the Reba and Dave Williams Foundation for Literature and the Arts, the Willie Morris Awards at the University of Mississippi, the Rhett House Inn, the Anchorage 1770 Inn, the Best Western Sea Islands Inn, Susan DeLoach Photography, Hahn Family Wines, Oyster Cay Collection, Eugene A. Rugala & Associates, University of South Carolina Beaufort, Lowcountry Presbyterian Church, the Beaufort Bookstore, the Storybook Shoppe, NeverMore Books, Annie Powell – Welcome Home Beaufort, Allen Patterson Builders, Foolish Frog, Zippy Lube of Sea Island Parkway, Lynn & Wheeler, CPAs, PA, Marly Rusoff & Mihai Radulescu, Carol Dawson, Patricia A. Denkler, and others.

Learn more about the Pat Conroy Literary Center online at or in person at 601 Bladen Street in downtown Beaufort, where the Center is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 4:00 p.m. or other times by appointment.