A Pickerington High School Central graduate with thoughts of a career in the film industry will be bolstered by a National Merit Scholarship when he heads to Stanford University this fall.

Zak Sharif, 17, has a creative side, and he's also practical with a mind for the business world.

So he's leaving his career options open by planning to major in both English and economics in the fall when he attends Stanford University near Palo Alto, California.

He'll do so aided by a National Merit Scholarship, which he was awarded earlier this month.

He was one of 7,500 finalists nationwide in the class of 2017 to receive a scholarship provided by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

The awards typically are renewable for up to four years of college undergraduate study and provide annual stipends ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per year. Some, however, provide a single payment between $2,500 and $5,000

"It's kind of amazing and a little bit surreal," Sharif said about receiving the scholarship. "When I actually won the scholarship, I was so, so thrilled.

"Every little bit helps."

Sharif plans to use the scholarship, coupled with money he's saving from working as a waiter at a local restaurant, to help pay for college.

He chose the school over Yale University in Connecticut, in part because he was eager to try out life on the West Coast.

Sharif said he believes Stanford is a good fit for his academic interests, which he hopes to parlay into either a career as a screenwriter or in the business world.

"Ever since I was young, I've always enjoyed writing and music lyrics," he said.

"I feel like writing is a very personal expression of self, but I also like to connect with people through my writing.

"Economics is a nice backup plan if, perhaps, the arts don't work out for me."

En route to earning the scholarship, Sharif achieved scores on his preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test that put him in the upper echelon of the more than 1.6 million juniors from more than 22,000 high schools who took the test in 2015.

He also completed a detailed application, which included writing an essay and providing information about extracurricular activities, awards and leadership positions.

Through the process, he maintained an academic record that put him among the top 10 students in his graduating class at Central, and he earned SAT scores that confirmed his qualifying test performance.

"It is really, really nice to get a little bit of acknowledgement for a job well-done, and it's also a little bit of a pat on the back and a little bit of reassurance," he said.

Sharif is the son of Faith and Tap Sharif.

He was recognized in April by the Pickerington Local School District as a "Distinguished Scholar" for earning a cumulative grade-point average of 3.75 or higher during high school.

In 2016, he was one of nine boys to represent the district at the American Legion Buckeye Boys State, a program founded in 1936.

Young men from nearly 600 Ohio high schools learn about city, county and state government through a non-partisan objective education approach.

During his time at Central, Sharif was a member of the mock trial and debate teams, as well as Student Council.

He also was involved with the school's theater program, and pointed to the recent spring musical, "The Heights," and theater teacher Aileen Targett as highlights of his scholastic career.

"I would say theater, and especially our theater director Ms. Targett, have been incredibly influential in my high school career," he said. "(Targett) has taught me lessons in perseverance, in determination and being confident in being as quirky and goofy as you truly are."

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