Senior Spotlight – Rachel Cunningham

For anyone who attended school, the feelings of a year coming to an end have always been very specific.  Feelings of hope and sadness are in conflict during a time of transition.  The culminating moment of a school career is a student’s senior year of high school.  When that year ends, there is a sense of closure and finality.  There is no “next school year”.  It’s the closing of a door on a long chapter of an educational life.

For seniors in Haywood County Schools in the class of 2022, graduation marks the end of a journey that most likely began at Anderson Early Childhood Center and wound through Haywood Elementary, East Side, onto Haywood Middle School, and finally culminated at Haywood High School.  Students in HCS all attended the same schools at the same time and likely formed close friendships along the way.  This weekend at graduation, they will all be in the same place together one last time.

I sat down with three seniors during their last week as a Haywood Tomcat and talked with them about how they were feeling during this time of transition, what their fondest memories were of their time in HCS, and what their expectations for the future are.  To hear the full interview with Rachel Cunningham, click this link.


Rachel Cunningham made a last minute decision.  Up until late April, she was set on attending college at the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga (UTC), but a last minute college visit to Mississippi State with her dad made her change her mind.

“I was really set on UTC at first, but that changed two weeks ago.  My dad took me on a visit to Mississippi State and I really loved it.  They have a strong business program and I want to major in Accounting,” she said.

Not only was changing schools a last minute decision, choosing a program of study in college was also something that changed for Rachel along the way.

At first, she wanted to pursue a career in the healthcare field – nursing to be exact.   After taking a Certified Nursing Assistant class at Haywood High School, however, she realized that nursing wasn’t the best career choice for her.

Because Haywood High School offers a variety of Career and Technical Education classes, students are exposed to different career options with hands-on learning opportunities.  Oftentimes, students use these classes to hone their skills and earn post-secondary credit in a career field they want to pursue after college.  Another, less talked about advantage to the exposure to a variety of CTE classes is that it can sometimes help students realize career paths they may not want to travel.  That was the case for Rachel.

“I was interested in being a nurse, but after doing the CNA program I realized that it wouldn’t be a good fit for me.  I’m a very practical person, so numbers and having a set answer to something is really my niche,” she explained. 

Throughout her educational career in Haywood County Schools, Rachel has been able to find teachers in which she was able to connect.  Having an adult that provides a safe space for a student to talk or learn is something that can be invaluable during stressful times.  Rachel can still remember a teacher from elementary school with whom she felt a strong connection.  During her high school years, she found another teacher that provided guidance and mentorship.

“Ms. Latresa Bond in fourth grade was so nice and helpful.  I feel like I could still go and talk to her today.  From my high school years, Ms. Cresap has been really influential in my life and she’s always been a safe person for me to go to if I needed to talk to someone,” Rachel said.

Academic success is something Rachel has always attained as a student in HCS.  She finished her high school career with the third highest grade point average in the class of 2022.  Some subjects, however, didn’t come as easily to her as others.

“I have to work hard at History because it’s a lot of memorization.  Math and English have always come naturally to me, though,” she admitted.

Rachel doesn’t believe that the academic load at the college level will be that big of an adjustment, but she does wonder how much of an adjustment it will be to leave Haywood County and attend a large university.

“I’m a little nervous about leaving because I’ve always lived here, but I think you can adapt to any situation,” she said.  “I think I’ll adjust well to being in a new place because there are so many different types of people at the college.  Plus, I have family nearby, so that will definitely help.”

At the end of every chapter in life, there is a natural mix of sadness and excitement.  Rachel is feeling both of those things as she reflects on her time in HCS and specifically her senior year at Haywood High School.

“I’ll really miss being in HOSA.  In March, we went to the state convention in Knoxville and competed and it was so much fun.  I feel like I’ll need to find another group like that when I go to college,” she said.

While there are a multitude of unknowns for Rachel as she heads south to Starkville, she is certain she’s making the right choice.  She knew it the moment she stepped on campus at Mississippi State.

“People say that when you step onto your campus for the first time, you get a sense of home and belonging and I felt that when I visited Mississippi State.”