When Shehan McFadden gave her valedictorian speech at Signal Mountain High School last week, she shared the spotlight with nearly 170 classmates.
"We are a talented class," she says. "We have 17 state champions in sports. We have 14 Eagle Scouts. We won 26 awards at Model United Nations and Youth in Government. We have five National Merit (Scholarship) semifinalists and three more commended students.
"Seven members of our class have attended Governor's School. In theater, one person was recognized as a first in the state and another second. In band, we have had three people go to senior clinic and one member placed and participated in all-state band. And our chorus has competed at state three times, receiving the highest possible ratings twice."
The teenager knows hard work pays off. She can prove it.
She has been offered more than 1 million bucks -- $1,021,428 to be precise -- in scholarships from eight universities, including Tulane University in New Orleans, where she'll go in the fall on a "full ride." She'll major in anthropology and philosophy.
"I want to be an anthropology professor and do research," she says.
Robin Copp, principal at Signal Mountain Middle-High School, says she's not surprised by Shehan's exceptional amount of scholarship offers.
"She is a gifted student in a lot of different areas," Copp says. "She's very involved in the theater arts program on the technical side, and she is an incredible student. She's a National Merit Scholar, and she is a really nice, caring person."
Though surprised at the amount of scholarships offered to their daughter, Patrick and Hallie McFadden have known all along that she was gifted.
"Shehan has always been an academic rock star -- perfect grades, raving teachers, insane standardized test scores and, at the heart of all that, a seemingly endless intellectual curiosity," says her dad, who is a graduate of the Naval Academy. "I was always confident she would receive substantial consideration. But, in retrospect, I was woefully ignorant of the reality of college admissions and costs.
"Shehan's college counselor, Karen Herbst, was hugely instrumental in guiding us through this incredibly complex minefield," he says. "In the end, I am relieved Shehan had so many options."
Shehan has maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout high school. "I think it shows all the hard work I put in to my classes," she says. "Most of (my classes) were easy, but I found individual ways to challenge myself. I tried to be familiar with all that we were talking about, so I did a lot of independent research."
Shehan's mom, a local defense attorney, says curiosity has been the key to her daughter's achievements.
"She rarely brought home homework, but she is so self-motivated, she would get it all done at school. Then she'd come home and read -- poetry, philosophy, fiction," her mother says. "She's extremely curious intellectually and, when she finds something interesting to her, she independently researches it until she knows everything she possibly can about the subject."
But it's not all work and no play for Shehan.
"I designed lights for both my high school and the Mountain Arts Community Center (on Signal Mountain). I think that it's important to have a creative release like that," she says, adding, "I watch too much television."
Shehan says she looks forward to college and has no fears about leaving home.
"I'm really excited," she says. "I'm not scared because I have spent several weeks away from my family every summer since fourth grade. I'm ready to explore a new city, meet new people and really discover myself."
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...