National Merit semifinalist: Meadows senior Briana Hall confident she will succeed

Briana Hall knew within her first week at The Meadows School -- where tuition is $22,750 for high school -- that she was different.

A group of girls was comparing how much their dads earned -- in millions. Soon, talk transitioned to trust funds.

"One girl said hers was only $9 million," Briana recalls of the eighth-grade memory. "She said $9 million and put the word 'only' in front of it, 'only.' "

Briana's father, Justin Hall, remembers this as well because she came home and asked him, "I don't have a trust fund, do I?"

"Why can't they do what most kids do, play the game of, 'My dad could beat up your dad,' " joked Hall, who boxed in the Army and bench-pressed 400 pounds at his peak.

"If worse comes to worse, I could beat 'em up," he light-heartedly jested before admitting, "It was a culture shock going to Meadows."

But it's been a blessing because Briana -- now a senior and a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist for placing in the top 1 percent in the country with her PSAT score -- was too advanced for Clark County public schools, even after skipping sixth grade, her father said.

When the family moved to Las Vegas from Florida in 2006, Briana's math teacher said, "She can't be in here. I can't teach her anything," Hall recalls.

Briana corrected the teacher in class, telling her she could do the problem faster another way. But other students hadn't learned those techniques yet.

Briana's parents haven't finished college -- in fact her mother was the first in her family to graduate high school -- but they have been determined to nurture Briana's talents and give her room to flourish, they said.

Briana's smarts earned her a scholarship to The Meadows, a private school whose academic excellence is evident in Briana's class of 70. Case in point: The National Merit semifinalist honor is reserved for only 1 percent of American high school seniors based on their top-of-the-top PSAT scores earned as juniors. One in seven of Briana's classmates are semifinalists.

Still, Briana stands out. She took the test at age 15. Finding that out takes some digging. She is reluctant to admit that she didn't take cram courses or do anything to prepare for the PSAT. She "just woke up and took it."

"A lot of people say I don't give myself enough credit," said Briana, who claimed it's better that way because doing so would give herself an excuse to slack.

She doesn't like to stand out or brag about her achievements, said her mother. More often than not, Angela stumbles upon her daughter's milestones, as she did when she found an opened letter from the U.S. House of Representatives on Briana's desk congratulating her on being named a National Merit semifinalist.

Angela, who works 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. at a casino and attends masseuse school from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., gives her husband credit for Briana's smarts, referencing his natural intelligence.

Justin Hall didn't finish college because of their unplanned first child, Briana, but became a professional poker player.

"I'm a math guy," he said.

He gave up poker because of another unplanned pregnancy and their fourth child, Noah , who now is 2.

Justin now works in finance. But he doesn't take credit for Briana's intelligence, either. That belongs to his wife, who read to Briana as far back as her time in the womb, he said.

"I started doing it from the moment I knew she was there," said Angela, who does all she can to emphasize the importance of education to her four children, something her side of the family didn't do. Both of her siblings dropped out of high school. Her father was a hardworking house painter his whole adult life, and her mother was legally blind but worked as a waitress.

Angela's family history taught Briana to value education, as it has with 13-year-old Mikaela, a straight-A student, and 9-year-old Jaedn, an honor roll student.

From a young age, Briana remembers envisioning herself working in the big city, grabbing a coffee on the way to work in a pencil skirt.

"I'm not going to be holding a cigarette with a baby on my hip," said the blue-eyed, blond-haired 16-year-old in her Meadows blue plaid skirt and polo shirt.

Good grades and success have always been a self-imposed "expectation not a goal," said Briana, who plans to major in economics and creative writing at Tennessee's Vanderbilt University.

"I'm not going to fail."

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at or 702-383-0279.