published Friday, March 16th, 2012

Chattanooga sisters receive National Merit Scholar honors

Meagan, left, and Leigh Stanfield play in the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences band.
Meagan, left, and Leigh Stanfield play in the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences band.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

ABOUT THEM


* Names: Meagan Stanfield and Leigh Stanfield.

* Age: 17.

* Birthday: April 11, 1994.

* Grade: 12.

* School: Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.

* Average grades: Meagan (98.2)/Leigh (99.125)

From her stellar grade point average to serving as director general of Model United Nations, Leigh Stanfield has been first in many things, but her sister, Meagan, beat her into the world by 13 minutes.

Since then, the identical twin sisters, who are now 17 and seniors at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, have paced each other, accolade for accolade.

Leigh and Meagan both play several instruments and sit first-chair in the school band's bassoon and tuba sections, respectively. They each have 4.0 grade point averages, their Preliminary SAT scores were within three points of one other, and both were recently named National Merit finalists.

Despite being neck and neck academically, the Stanfields said they have never felt a need to compete and usually serve as each other's staunchest supporters.

"Whatever one of us needs, the other one is usually along for the ride," Leigh explained.

Besides, they said, when it comes to assignments, two heads are generally better than one.

"It makes the homework easier," Meagan said. "If one of us isn't there or we need to check answers, you have another person with the same class load."

"I can always trust that she's someone who will do something to the best quality," Leigh added. "It's not just having a sibling in class; it's like having a class with your best friend."

DIFFERENT STROKES

They may be biologically identical -- though Leigh is left-handed, while Meagan is right-handed -- and frequently finish sentences in unison, but the Stanfields are adamant that they have different interests and personalities.

Nevertheless, they said people often assume looking alike and thinking alike go hand in hand.

"My favorite one is the GPS [Global positioning system], that we always know where the other one is all the time," Meagan said, adding that they have learned to laugh at such assumptions.

"Eventually you have to deal with it," she continued. "After 17 years, if we got upset about it all the time, we'd probably have a lot more gray hairs than we do."

By middle school, they began taking opportunities to set themselves apart, first by wearing different outfits and hair styles. In high school, they said they have had even more opportunity to explore interests that have defined them even further as individuals.

Leigh has been pursuing writing and is a budding author. Meagan is an aspiring filmmaker and production designer. Last summer, each took the opportunity to explore those interests more fully.

INDIVIDUAL DISTINCTION

During her summer break, Leigh wrote "Unwell," her third novel, which she entered in Amazon.com's Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, an international writing competition, finishing in the top 1 percent of entrants. For her senior project, she said she is writing a screenplay titled "Little Crooked House" to compare the process of writing for different media.

While Leigh was fleshing out "Unwell," her sister was spending a month at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., learning about filmmaking. She was one of a handful of participants in the Tennessee Governor's School for the Arts program for young filmmakers. Her class's thesis film was submitted to the Nashville Film Festival, Meagan said.

While they enjoy different things, the sisters also participate in many activities together, including their school's environmental club, tae kwan do and Technology Student Association, for which they have reached the national competition.

Since entering CSAS in sixth grade, they also have served on the same Model United Nations delegation, which according to a Jan. 30 article on the CSAS's website is the school's most-awarded Model UN delegation since it began entering competitions in 1989.

As part of Model UN, the Stanfields have received numerous awards as the best delegate at competitions. During their freshman year, they also served as the secretary general and director general for middle school Model UN competitions. In addition to their involvement as high school delegates, they have continued to coach and advise the middle school team.

"We've gotten so much from the organization that we're happy to do whatever we can to give back," Leigh said.

The Stanfield's instructors said it has been fascinating to see two girls who look so similar but who have followed such different paths to distinction.

"It was interesting to see how they would approach pieces from different perspectives," said CSAS English instructor Kevin Aslinger of the essays the Stanfield sisters wrote last year. "The best seminars were when they disagreed with one another, which was about 50 percent of the time."

CSAS director of bands David Butler has been conducting Meagan and Leigh since sixth grade. He said he has enjoyed how, despite tackling such different instruments, they both have exhibited an earnestness and curiosity that set them apart from their peers.

"It's very instinctual for them to ask clarifying questions, anything to give them a better concept of what we're doing and how we're going about it," Butler said. "They're very self-directed."

THE FINAL SPRINT

The sisters said their primary nutrient during their senior year has been caffeine as they try to keep up with school work and responsibilities to various clubs while working out their post-graduation plans.

Meagan said she is interested in attending MTSU, where she and her sister have nearly full-ride scholarships, but Leigh is still waiting to hear back from Vanderbilt University before deciding where to attend.

Despite having only two months until graduation and their choice of schools to attend, the Stanfields said they think it would feel wrong to rest on their laurels after 17 years of striving for excellence.

Why should anything change now, they asked.

"I can't stand the feeling at the end of the day where you realize you haven't accomplished anything," Leigh said. "A lot of the stuff we do is very productive. It's something we can be proud of, something we enjoy. It's fun to stay busy."

"We don't do anything halfway," Meagan added. "When we stay busy, we stay busy."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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