Charboneau, Todaro to speak at graduation
When the Class of 2019 receives their diplomas in May, they will be led by two top-notch ladies, according to school officials.
The valedictorian of the 2019 graduating class is Lillian Charboneau, who is the daughter of Tullahoma High School math teacher Amber Charboneau. This year’s salutatorian is Natalie Todaro.
Both girls said being the top of their class wasn’t necessarily a driving goal, but rather a nice surprise after working hard in school.
“It was never a competition whenever I got to high school,” Lillian said, though she did say being named valedictorian was a “general goal” of hers in middle school.
“It was just something that, as I kept doing it, I kept wanting to push myself to take as many AP and challenging courses as I could.”
Instead, Lillian said, she just wanted to build her own challenging curriculum.
“I just wanted to get my GPA up to the highest that I could and take as many courses as I could to help get that up, and it just all fell in line like that,” she said.
It was the same with Natalie, who said she wasn’t competing against her peers, but rather herself.
“I’m really competitive with myself, so after a while I knew there were a lot of us that were tied [for second],” she said. “I was really surprised when the last quarter rolled around.”
Natalie said there were several students ranked second in the class for a large portion of the school year, so she didn’t realize that she had made it to the second spot at first.
“For a long time there were 10 different people who had a two on their ranking, so that’s what I thought it was until somebody told me [differently],” she said.
When the girls look back on their time at THS, both said they were eternally grateful for all the experiences they had received through their school. Those experiences, they said, have helped form the young women they are today and have taught them invaluable skills they can use for the rest of their lives.
“Everything I’ve been involved with at school,” Lillian said, “has really helped shape me. That’s something that I’m the most grateful for, looking back on my high school career.”
“They’ve just pushed a lot of things on me that are very, very good character-building opportunities, and you can learn skills that are really valuable for the rest of your life,” Natalie said.
Some of those opportunities the girls shared, such as their time in the marketing club DECA. Both girls said being in the club helped teach them communication skills, business savvy and more.
Lillian said DECA, as well as the THS Math Team and her own after-school job encouraged her to venture out her out of her comfort zone and become a more “outgoing and determined person in every facet of my life.”
Natalie learned similar lessons during her time at THS, saying all her experiences in Tullahoma have taught her not to be afraid to “branch out” and try new things.
“If you branch out and go for things that you’re maybe not so sure about, those are the best experiences, by far,” Natalie said. “I think that’s something that I’ll take with me to college.”
Both girls were also grateful for Tullahoma at large, saying that the town was a special kind of place.
Despite a common desire to get out of town and see the world, Lillian said, “everyone loves Tullahoma.”
“At the end of the day,” she said, “everyone likes the culture, everyone likes the people and there are so many parts of Tullahoma that … come together in so many ways.”
Natalie agreed, saying she was awed by the community when Eli Grow was killed in a car crash in 2016.
It happened during Natalie’s first year in Tullahoma, after she moved to the area from California with her military family.
“One of the most impactful things I remember from freshman year is actually when Eli Grow passed [away],” she said. “I had never seen a town come together for something like that. That was when I realized this isn’t like a small town with small-town politics. People really come together and care for each other here.”
That sense of community is something that both girls will be happy to return to while they’re away at college, though neither have made 100-percent-firm plans on their next destination as of yet.
Generally speaking, both girls have an idea of where they’ll end up, but they’re both waiting to hear back from their preferred schools about scholarship offers and acceptances.
For Lillian, it’s a toss-up between landing in Athens, Georgia, at the University of Georgia, or Knoxville at the University of Tennessee.
Natalie is still waiting to hear back, but she’s nearly completely decided upon Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.
Both girls, however, know what they want to study when they get to wherever they’re going.
Lillian said she plans to become a veterinarian, so vet science or animal biology will be her major.
“Being a vet is something I’ve known I want to do my whole life,” she said. Between volunteering at the animal shelter in town and interning at various vet’s offices, Lillian said helping animals has “always been my love … and passion.”
Natalie is also entering a STEM career through a mechanical engineering program.
Like Lillian, it’s also something she’s known she wants to do for many years. Natalie credited the high school math program with solidifying her desire to go into mechanical engineering.
“Our math program is fantastic, and that’s helped push me in this direction,” she said. Since entering into a CAD [computer-aided design] class her freshman year, Natalie said she appreciates being able to use the same programs real-world engineers work with on a daily basis.
“I’ve had four years of experience in programs that people use in the everyday world, and that’s helped me,” she said.
For getting them this far, both girls thanked multitudes of family members, friends and teachers.
Lillian especially thanked her older brother, Sebastian, for his enthusiastic support.
“He’s always been one of the most encouraging people throughout my high school career,” she said. She also thanked her “immediate family” for being “so supportive” of all the things she wanted to do in school.
“Whenever I get stressed, they keep me grounded and always remind me of the future that I have coming,” she said.
Natalie particularly thanked her father, who retired from the U.S. Air Force two years ago. She said he very well could have decided to move her family back to California, but he chose to remain in Tullahoma to allow her to finish school in one place.
“He knows how difficult it’s been changing schools, and it’s something that we didn’t think we’d do as a family,” she said. “I really appreciate that it happened, because it made high school a lot easier for me.
She always gave special thanks to Randy Edwards, the CAD instructor.
“There’s a lack of females in the STEM career field,” she said, and “he’s always been pushing to give me opportunities … and helping me do whatever I can to advance my career goals.”
Both girls also thanked Frank Vanzant, the former head of the math department and an instrumental instructor who retired last year.
Both girls said Vanzant made math fun and interesting.
The Class of 2019 will graduate from Tullahoma High School on Friday, May 17.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.