For the second time in five years, Tullahoma High School’s top two students are two young men.
The Class of 2018 will conclude its educational journey in Tullahoma led by valedictorian Sam Uselton and salutatorian Bradley Holmes.
Both boys have exemplary academic records, with grade point averages (GPA) above 4.0, a litany of Advanced Placement (AP) classes and numerous academic clubs and extracurriculars.
Though neither student held any longtime aspirations of being top of their class, having the distinction firmly in their grasp was a thrilling win for each of them.
“It is fantastic; I absolutely love it,” Bradley said.
Their distinction is a shared win for the boys, who said that their class was made up of friends who pushed one another to do better in classes.
“It’s nice that we’ve always been able to do well,” Sam said.
Not only are Bradley and Sam classmates at THS, they’ve also been good friends since they were in the fifth grade, when Bradley moved to Tullahoma.
While speaking with The News last week, Bradley shared the first memory he had of Sam’s mother, Kim Uselton.
“Your mom, she walked me into my first class,” Bradley said. “She did that because I just wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t have it,” he said.
“My mom was walking me in, and she said I just turned around, and your mom just took me and walked me in,” Bradley said.
This was surprising to Sam, who said he hadn’t heard this story, though he wasn’t surprised. His mom is well-known for being a friendly face in the Tullahoma community.
For Bradley, whose family moved to Tullahoma when he was in elementary school, coming in second at THS was a happy accident.
“I’ll admit, I wasn’t trying to play the GPA game,” he said. “I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to do that, but (instead) I was going to strive to learn as much as I could.”
Bradley credits some of his status as salutatorian to the AP classes he took while at THS, a factor shared by Sam.
“I took AP chemistry online, and the reason he’s (Sam) up here with me is because he took AP ecology online. We took extracurricular science classes and trained ourselves up for AP tests,” Bradley said.
Taking the extra online classes was entirely his idea, Bradley said, though he did receive immense support in his academic goals from his parents and his friends.
In addition to the extra academics, Bradley is a member of a number of clubs and teams at the high school, including National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, student council and the THS swim team.
Bradley also said he helps tutor some of his classmates on the side with the help of some of the other math teachers at THS.
“They have us come in after school some days, and I’ve only recently – since swim season is over – been coming more. I do what I can.
When asked what he felt was his greatest accomplishment while at THS, Bradley said getting accepted to the colleges he applied to was what he felt most proud of.
Bradley applied to the University of Alabama, Huntsville, the U.S. Naval Academy and MIT – and was accepted at all of them.
His final choice of post-secondary education will be courtesy of the United States Navy, he said. Bradley will receive a full-ride scholarship in exchange for five years of military service while he trains to be a naval officer.
“I think getting into the schools that I was…the proudest I was. I got into MIT with an NROTC scholarship, so I could’ve gone there (on a) full ride, and then I also got into the Naval Academy, which is where I’m choosing to go.
“I want to be the best naval officer possible,” he said.
His affection for the Navy stems from a lifelong love of the water, he said, as he “grew up a swimmer,” and loves sailing. He also holds a strong appreciation of submarines, which is an added bonus for him.
“I’ve always thought submarines were cool,” he said.
Bradley wanted to thank many people for helping him get to where he is academically, including his parents, for their never-ending support, his swim coaches for pushing him and Frank Vanzant for inspiring him to aim for perfection.
Once he has entered the Naval Academy, Bradley hopes to receive his bachelor’s degree in either electrical or mechanical engineering before entering the academy’s nuclear powering school.
Once he has all his education, his skill set would translate into working somewhere in the private sector, though nothing is set in stone.
Like Bradley, Sam was never going into high school with the singular goal of finishing at the top of his class, but he wouldn’t say it just happened.
“I wouldn’t say I got lucky,” he said. “I definitely worked hard for it.”
When he started his final year last August, Sam said he had a vague idea that there was a chance he could finish first.
“I kind of had a good idea,” he said. “I knew I was going to be close at the beginning of this year, which I was really surprised about.”
That surprise came from the fact that this year’s graduating class has seen multiple honors bestowed upon a number of his classmates.
“We have (someone who scored) a 36 on the ACT (and) we have somebody who got into MIT,” he said, pointing to Bradley.
“We just have a really strong class,” he said.
Knowing for certain that he has the honor now, however, gives Sam all the academic validation he could ever need, he said.
“It just kind of felt like the work I’ve been doing in high school had paid off,” he said. “It was great.”
Unlike Bradley, Sam said he doesn’t have a complete road map to follow for his post-secondary academics.
“I don’t have anything figured out,” he said.
He does have “a rough idea” of what he’ll be doing in college, however.
Sam plans to pursue both mathematics and music in whichever college he decides to attend.
“I’m going to do a major in mathematics and a minor in music,” he said.
Sam has applied to four different universities, including two colleges out of state. He has been accepted at the University of Kentucky and Belmont University and is awaiting decisions from Vanderbilt University and the University of Washington in St. Louis.
Sam said his biggest influences during his time in Tullahoma were his band family and instructors, several of his teachers, and his family and friends.
He credited his “insanely talented academically” friends for pushing him and his family for supporting him whenever he struggled or worried about his path at school for helping him reach his success thus far.
In particular, Sam said his “Pop,” Jim Uselton, was the most influential person in his life.
“He’s just awesome,” he said. “He’s a really cool person.”
Bradley concurred, saying, “Everybody loves his grandpa.”
In addition to his family and friends, Sam wanted to thank Vanzant, Sandy Klonaris and Charlie Hickerson for their guidance at THS.
Like Bradley, Sam is also a member of Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society, student council and the math and swim teams. Sam is also a member of the National English Honor Society. He has played saxophone in the THS Band all four years of high school.
Tullahoma will always hold a special place in both boys’ hearts, they said.
“It’s been a great place to grow up,” Bradley said. “I’ve had a good time. I moved here when I was in fifth grade, and I’ve loved it.”
The THS Class of 2018 will receive their diplomas from Director of Schools Dan Lawson during commencement ceremonies, which will be held the evening of Friday, May 25.
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.