“We are blessed to have grown up here in Nantahala, Land of the Noonday Sun,” said Nantahala School’s valedictorian, Lauren Gearhart, when she addressed her class at the school’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 4. “The haven we have here is like a well-kept secret in our lush, green mountains.”
Indeed, the small school in the mountains seems to grow talent like a greenhouse, year after year, turning out more outstanding citizens than it has a right to. The Class of 2011, with nine graduates, has been no exception.
“One thing that is unique about our school is that it is truly like an extended family,” said guidance counselor Leslie Mason, known to everyone at the school as Ms. Leslie. “It is a nurturing environment where the students know the teachers genuinely care about them.”
Having achieved awards in math, science, and social studies, Gearhart, who in the fall will attend the University of Alabama at Huntsville in the Honors College of Engineering, is just one example of how a nurturing environment works. Among many scholarships that will support Gearhart’s academic pursuits at UAH, she was the recipient of the university’s highly competitive Academic Excellence Scholarship as well as the North Carolina Veteran’s Scholarship.
Salutatorian Jessica Shoelzel, who has also set her sights high, will be attending Young Harris College in the fall, where she plans to major in biology and continue her college work to become a physician's assistant. Notably, Shoelzel attended the National Youth Leadership Forum in Boston this year. She was also the recipient of numerous scholarships, including the Young Harris Academic Merit Scholarship and the National Society of High School Scholars Award.
While each of the nine graduates distinguished themselves among their classmates in various ways, Victoria Waters took the class award for English. Waters, who plans to major in biology/ pre-med at Converse College, is also an avid reader and the author of a 160-page novel in progress.
“This has been a remarkable class as they have accomplished many academic achievements outside of the regular school setting,” said Macon. She added that regardless of the students’ intended careers – which include welding, automotive mechanics, law enforcement, medicine and engineering – it is the wish of the teachers and staff at Nantahala School that they all rise to the top. “It has been our goal to provide them with an atmosphere that fostered a great sense of belonging and stable emotional relationships with peers and adults so they have the intrinsic motivation needed to succeed as productive members of society. We hope they continue to form meaningful relationships within their professional and personal lives.”