Manchester Valley High School Class of 2018 graduate Ashley Thomas talks about the unexpected opportunities that took her out of her comfort zone as a leader.
Ashley Thomas, who graduated from Manchester Valley High School on Saturday, June 9, said she came into the school as a quiet freshman but is learning what it takes to be a leader.
"Starting high school my freshman year, honestly I was shy," she said as she reflected on her experience a few days after classes ended. "I never would have imagined I'd be in any kind of leadership role or doing an internship my senior year. I was totally secluded. So high school for me has been a time of personal growth."
In the fall, she will go to the University of South Carolina to major in hospitality management.
She found the major through research after having some difficulty narrowing down what she liked to just one field. Her mother's work planning events and her memories of parties they had as a family were inspirations, too.
"Service has always been a huge part of my life, so making people's days is what I'm really striving to do with hospitality management," she said.
"My dad was very willing to donate any supplies that we needed, so I was able to take that project head-on and initiate it, and we were very successful with it," she said.
They worked to make the digital horse race as close to real life as possible, and the game alone raised $1,900.
Lea Nappier, Thomas' guidance counselor and senior class adviser, said Thomas shows a reliability that can be rare for teenagers in her role as public relations coordinator for the student government.
When something needed to be done, "she always was the first one to raise her hand and offer to do that," Nappier said.
In addition to student government, she served as vice president of the National Honor Society chapter where she led others organizing the school's Relay for Life that raised around $16,000 for the American Cancer Society.
"She's a quiet leader. But so impactful to the school and her community," Nappier said.
In the classroom, she has always had a passion for history, an interest she shares with her family. On family vacation, "We always go and tour a dead president's house or something like that," she said, laughing.
Some of her favorite classes were AP World History and Human Geography because she could learn about history and culture.
"After the AP test, I'm not kidding you, I sat back and just smiled because I enjoyed so much taking that test," she said.
Social studies teacher Steven Findeisen said Thomas stands out because of her smart analytical writing, but "doesn't have the arrogance and the ego that we sometimes see with it."
When she applied to be vice president of National Honor Society at Manchester Valley, she said she was uncertain and afraid of public speaking. She might not have applied if she knew how much she would need to be onstage speaking in front of others.
"As a leader, I have grown immensely," she said. "High school has been a transformational experience for me."
Beyond taking skills into her career studies next year, she has a community-centered mindset for what she has learned.
"I just want to continue to volunteer throughout my life. That is a goal of mine," she said. "To not necessarily get caught up in all the work and all the struggles and anything else that gets thrown my way. ... I'd still like to give back to organizations and find something I'm passionate about."
Manchester Valley High School 2018 Graduation Statistics