Follow CBSDFW.COM: Facebook | Twitter

HIGHLAND PARK (CBSDFW.COM) – A surprise ceremony revealed the news, 27 Highland Park High School students are all National Merit Semifinalists. The most in school history.

The seniors at Highland Park High School learned the news in a surprise ceremony.

“They called us into the office to pick up invitations the day before,” says semifinalist Hannah Genender. “They said dress nicely for a surprise.”

“When I just saw everyone in the room I was just really proud,” says semifinalist Darong Qi. “I was like, hey, you guys all made it. This is so exciting.”

More than 5 percent of the graduating class achieved the honor, which is based on scores from a test called the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT. Only 16,000 out of the 1.6 million students who take it were named semifinalists.

“I think at that moment, it was wow, wow, we really did this,” says semifinalist Cindy Ren.

You might think the high-achieving students would let competition trump the celebration. Not here.

“I think that we fostered a sense of community and development between us that allows us to grow stronger as a group and not just individually,” says semifinalist Field Parsons. “I value our teamwork and our ability to work together as a class and not just as an individual.”

The students, all leaders in the community as well as the classroom, will now vie to become finalists and then, they hope, National Merit Scholarship winners. Three types of Merit Scholarship awards will be announced in the spring. But for now, breaking the record books is achievement enough.

“It was really exciting that there were so many others in our grade,” says Hannah Genender.

The previous record for Highland Park High School was 21 National Merit Semifinalists. That was in 1958.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)