Friendships make THS specialPublished 6:00am Saturday, November 3, 2012
Editor’s Note: Franklin’s Future is a regular feature spotlighting a high school senior in Franklin County and what they have planned for life after graduation.
Tharptown’s Erica Valdez, 17, is an outgoing, friendly girl who has been involved in her school and is well-liked by her peers.
Valdez had the honor recently of being named THS’ 2012 Homecoming Queen and she has been involved in several clubs and activities, such as Students Against Destructive Decisions, 4-H, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, basketball, track, volleyball and cheerleading.
Valdez said most of her favorite memories from high school come from playing sports, something she said she loves and enjoys.
“The great thing about Tharptown is that everyone knows each other and you feel like family,” she said. “That’s how it is with your teammates, too.
“I’ve been playing sports with most of these girls since third grade so it just makes it easier to bond as a team and really become friends.”
Valdez said getting to play sports was one of the main things she would miss when she graduates in May, but she also said she would miss the teachers.
“I’ve known all these teachers for a long time – that’s another advantage to a smaller school,” she said. “I’m so used to being familiar with and comfortable with my teachers that it will be strange to go off to college and not know my teachers anymore.”
But even though college will be a different environment than she’s used to, Valdez said she was looking forward to the experience and planned to take it one step at a time.
“I’m planning to go to Northwest-Shoals Community College for the first couple of years to get my basics before I transfer to a four-year college,” she said.
“Coming from a small school like Tharptown, I think it will be a better transition for me to go to Northwest first instead of jumping straight into a bigger college.”
Valdez sais she wasn’t completely sure which college or university she wanted to transfer to once she finished up her time at NWSCC, but she did know what she would be majoring in once she got there.
“I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to have a career as a speech pathologist,” she said.
“When I was younger, I had a speech impediment and it made me very shy and self-conscious about talking,” she said. “Then, about four years ago, my grandpa had a stroke and he had to completely learn how to talk all over again.
“In both situations, speech pathologists played a big role. I remember how nice the speech pathologist was to my grandpa when he was in rehab, and it just reinforced the idea that that’s what I wanted to do.”
Someone who grew up with a speech impediment that admittedly made her shy wouldn’t seem to be someone who is now bubbly and outgoing and doesn’t care to talk to a room full of people, but Valdez said there was a reason for that.
“I’ve grown up doing pageants since I was a little girl,” she said. “I was shy at first, but the more pageants I did, the more comfortable I got and the better I felt about myself.
“Doing pageants helped me build my self-confidence and now I could get up in front of a hundred people and talk and it wouldn’t bother me at all.”
Besides doing pageants in her spare time, Valdez, who is also the reigning Miss Wildcat at THS, said she tries to make time to hang out with her friends, read, ride four-wheelers and be outdoors, but sometimes her busy schedule doesn’t allow for much free-time, especially since she also works part-time at McDonald’s.
“I started working part-time when my mom got sick with cancer,” she said. “I wanted to do something to help out so that’s why I got the job.
“She’s doing better now, but I liked being able to help out so I just kept the job. I think it’s good for me.”
Valdez said she has enjoyed growing up in Franklin County, which is where her family has lived for several generations now.
“I like Franklin County and I could see myself moving back here after college and settling down here,” she said. “There are great schools here and the people are friendly and it’s just home.”
However, Valdez said she also wouldn’t be opposed to relocating somewhere other than Franklin County if her career took her somewhere else.
“I haven’t decided whether I would like to work at a rehabilitation center and help stroke patients like my grandpa or work in a school somewhere helping kids who were like me,” she said.
“Depending on what I choose to do, I might have to move somewhere else in order to get the job that I want to have.”
But no matter where she ends up, Valdez said she would always take time to visit her family here in Franklin County.
Valdez is the daughter of Abel Valdez and Lisa Neeley. She has an older brother, Tyler Neeley, an older sister, Ellie Valdez, and a one-year-old nephew, Eli Parker.