WHS sends off talented seniors
About 350 Watauga High School seniors graduated on Saturday and are ready to embark on the next phase of their lives, ready to conquer those stereotypes and blossom into productive adults.
The WHS Class of 2013 also holds a unique position as the final cohort of students who started their high school terms in the old building.
Before they launch into the post-high-school world, four accomplished young women shared their thoughts and advice with their peers and well-wishers Saturday at the ASU Holmes Convocation Center. Take note, Watauga -- these ladies are going places.
Valedictorian Stephanie Pawlyszyn could have graduated high school early -- but she's so glad she didn't.
"For me, senior year has definitely been my best year, and I just wouldn't have had the same experiences if I had left six months early," she said.
For Pawlyszyn, 18, those experiences included the completion of a fourth year in DECA, a club designed for students interested in marketing, finance and hospitality management.
Staying in school also granted her a second year pole vaulting for the track and field team, an activity that Pawlyszyn said was one of the best parts of her high school experience.
"I think it gave me a sense of community that I didn't have just being an academic student here," she said. "I pushed myself athletically and socially, and the stress kind of dissipated when I pole vaulted."
An "ex-gymnast," Pawlyszyn competed on vault, bars, beam and floor for 10 years and hopes to return to the sport in college.
She also started a blog through the N.C. Virtual Public Schools program called Tutor Talk, designed to help students who aren't as academically motivated to graduate high school.
It was academics, however, that earned Pawlyszyn the title of valedictorian.
Pawlyszyn said she loved calculus and even dual-enrolled at Appalachian State University this year to take Calculus II.
She also attended Governor's School last summer in the area of natural science. The five-week program allows academically gifted students to take nongraded courses that include topics outside of what they might learn in traditional classes.
Pawlyszyn will combine her love of math and science in the fall as she heads to Boston University on a full scholarship, with plans to major in biomedical engineering.
"I've always just loved math and science courses, and I think engineering is bringing the two courses together," she said. " ... It's a medical field where you know you can make a concrete impact in the lives of others."
Pawlyszyn is the daughter of Peter and Rose Pawlyszyn and attended Blowing Rock School.
At 17, Watauga High School salutatorian Madison Harman already knows well the meaning of success.
Aside from earning the second-highest GPA out of hundreds of students in her class, Harman secured the title while participating in three sports all four years of high school.
A varsity competitor in cross country, track and indoor track, Harman competed in the state cross country championship three years. The only year she didn't run -- her freshman year -- she was sick with the flu.
Harman said the connections she's made with her teammates are what she's enjoyed most about high school.
"I've just gotten to know a lot of really good people," she said. "We spend a lot of time together, since we train together, and they're my best friends."
She'll keep up her running habit by joining the club team at Duke University in the fall.
A lover of science, Harman completed every Advanced Placement science course the high school offered: biology, physics, chemistry and environmental science.
In college, she plans to major in biology with a concentration in zoology and said her ultimate goal is to become a herpetologist -- one who studies reptiles and amphibians.
"Everyone always comments on that, because it's a little strange," she said with a laugh. "I love working with animals. I've always been passionate about that, and a lot of them are endangered from habitat destruction or pollution."
She's already tried her hand at herpetology through a weeklong camp last summer learning research methods from biologists in the field. The experience continued with several weekend sessions during the school year.
Harman said she also considers herself passionate about the environment and attended a Washington, D.C., protest against the Keystone pipeline with a group from Appalachian State University.
"It was really amazing to see," she said. "Here, you might not hear about it as often, but across the country there are so many people that care and are actually willing to stand up and say that they care. They actually try to make a difference, and I want to be able to make an impact."
Harman is the daughter of Elizabeth Harman and John Everett Arnold and previously attended Hardin Park School.
STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT
For 18-year-old Taelor Critcher, serving on the Student Council and as student body president are decisions that have shaped her present and also her future.
Critcher said being part of the Student Council has helped her to define her next step: attending Appalachian State University for a major in hospitality and tourism management and a minor in entrepreneurship.
She said she hopes to become a wedding planner and own a business one day.
"I think Student Council had a lot to do with it, because I love planning things," she said.
As she heads off to pursue her passion, Critcher will look back on four busy years at Watauga High School. As a four-year lacrosse player, Critcher served as co-captain this year and also participated in the National Honor Society.
She said she particularly enjoyed her crafts and art classes and hopes to continue working with pottery in the future. Critcher said she also loved her English classes and teachers although it wasn't her best subject.
Being student body president also took much of her time, as it required her to lead the Student Council and oversee many of the projects and events within the club's purview.
She said she will really miss the teachers and students she's known through Watauga, but feels that she is completely prepared now for college.
"I think our class is really special because we've been through a ton of stuff together, and I feel like we have this huge connection," Critcher said.
Critcher had a simple warning for rising seniors.
"Senioritis is definitely a real thing," she said. "I would just encourage everybody to stay involved. Make the most of it, because you only get to be a senior once."
Critcher previously attended Green Valley and is the daughter of Tammy and Chuck Mantooth.
SENIOR CLASS PRESIDENT
Senior Class President Lauren Kaudelka said she finds it difficult to pick a favorite part of high school.
With her schedule, it's easy to see why.
Kaudelka was heavily involved at Watauga High School in DECA, a business and marketing club that tests students to deal with real-life business situations. She also served as co-president of the Key Club, a service organization, and played lacrosse her freshman and senior years.
As senior class president, she oversaw student body elections and Homecoming court voting, as well as numerous other projects with the Student Council.
Kaudelka said members of her senior class seemed to share an especially tight bond, one that included the WHS faculty.
"I really liked all my teachers; I never had a bad teacher," Kaudelka said. "They were always really helpful, and a lot of them were just like my friends. I could talk to them about anything."
She encouraged underclassmen to seize the opportunities that come before them during their final year in high school.
"Enjoy every single minute of your senior year because it flies by," she said. "Try to find a group of friends and just hang out with people as much as possible because it really is the last time that you're going to be with all the same people."
Kaudelka plans to attend N.C. State University in the fall and will join the First Year College, designed for students with undecided majors to explore their opportunities and interests. She suspects she'll pick a major related to marketing or hospitality.
"Even though these four years of my high school have been really hard, I am really proud to have graduated from this school and from this community," Kaudelka said. "I think it's one of the best towns and communities that there could be."