Natalie Smith is the co-valedictorian at Donelson Christian Academy this year.
Graduation will be May 15 at 10 a.m. at Hermitage Hills Baptist Church.
Smith is part of a graduating class of 56.
Smith holds a 4.43 grade-point average and a 34 composite ACT score. She said she plans to major in biological sciences – pre-medicine with a concentration in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology and neuroscience. She admitted, though, math was her least-favorite subject.
“I’m hoping to become a thoracic surgeon and work toward a cure for lung cancer, as it is something near and dear to my heart,” said Smith. “I’ve always loved science, and I think the human body is one of God’s most fascinating creations.”
Smith said there are two faculty members who most influenced her.
“The first is my cross-country coach, coach [Josh] Bledsoe,” she said. “He was my fifth-grade homeroom teacher and my cross-country coach for five years, and he constantly believed in me and encouraged me to work toward my goals in all areas of my life, not just running. Being on his team made me a better runner and a kinder, more confident, more capable person.”
The second Smith mentioned is her college counselor, Nicole Schierling.
“Her firm faith in God’s ability to work out all things for our good, [even college rejections,] and her care for every individual student have been a consistent encouragement to me and have shown me what it means to love well the people in our lives,” said Smith.
The student who most influenced Smith is her co-valedictorian, Kendall Roy.
“She is one of my dearest friends and one of the most clever, dedicated people I know. She constantly pushes me to work hard and have big dreams for myself,” Smith said. “I endlessly admire how much she wants to make the world a better place.”
This has most likely been a challenging year for DCA students, especially the senior class. A March 3, 2020 EF-3 tornado destroyed much of their school, and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-class instruction, which forced many to learn from home temporarily.
“The biggest way that COVID affected my senior year was in how much harder it made finding community. School, for a while, was most of the hard, draining parts without the social aspects that make it all worthwhile,” she said. “But, DCA worked really hard to give seniors a joyful year in a safe way, and I really appreciate that.”
Smith said the best piece of advice she received her entire high school career came from Bledsoe.
“During my sophomore cross-country season, I was dealing with an injury and didn’t get to actually run at all,” she said. “I was frustrated and discouraged and lots of other things, and he told me this – ‘It is during the most difficult and most disappointing times in our lives that we learn the most and grow the most as people; we gain greater empathy and a greater ability to serve others who are struggling.’”
Smith said it was something she’s carried with her through all of the struggles she’s faced as a high school student, and working through hard times with the perspective they will make her more able to help other people who are hurting helped her find joy even in the hurt.
“The best piece of advice that I can give to upcoming students is [to] make sure that you prioritize working hard and making good friends,” said Smith. “Working hard in high school opens up so many doors for college, and having good friends makes all of the bad days infinitely more bearable.”
Smith’s honors, school and leadership awards and accomplishments are many. Along with earning a spot on the All-Region cross-country team, she was awarded to the top 15 runners in each district at the regional cross-country meet. She was named distinguished scholar, placed on the principal’s list and ranked in the top 5% all through high school. She received honor awards in world history, chemistry and language. She also was awarded for several other scholarly accomplishments.
Smith said she was part of the International Thespian Society and theatre department, volunteered at the Peer Tutoring Center, sat on the Student-Athlete Leadership Council, was part of the Ultimate Frisbee Club, a member of the student council and part of a selective program called Youth Excelling in Learning Leadership, among others.
Her community involvement was extensive and included taking part in canned food drives, volunteering at the Nashville International Center for Empowerment, Feed the Children at Green Hill Church and among a dozen more.
When not studying, Smith worked as a nanny, a carhop at Sonic in Lebanon and a private tutor.