Emie Vandiver, Madison Treadway, and Campbell Joiner are very different. Their personalities range from serious to festive; their mannerisms vary between confident and staid; two are tragically Alabama fans, while one’s allegiance rests on the Plains; and they have rather dissimilar goals: One wants to be a doctor, one an elementary teacher, and one would be happy to tell the world about Jesus.
Yet, in other ways, they could be sisters. They are all “STEM girls,” whose favorite subjects are math and science. They have always enjoyed school and loved learning. Each is athletic and played sports. And, of course, each was named her school’s valedictorian.
Before entering high school, neither East Lawrence High’s Treadway or Lawrence County High’s Joiner were worried about being valedictorian. They certainly weren’t trying to win it.
“Going into high school, I didn’t even know anything about class ranks,” said Treadway. “I never thought about that. I don’t have older siblings, so I didn’t really know about anything going into high school.”
“I never thought about it, honestly,” said Joiner.
That changed during their freshman years.
“I was first the first semester of freshman year,” said Treadway. “And when I figured out what it was I was like, ‘Okay, now it’s a competition.’”
“I remember my ninth grade year I was tied with another girl for second,” said Joiner. “And I was just like, ‘Okay, that’s cool I guess.’”
At the end of the year they updated the ranking, and Joiner was on top.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I kind of want to be first for the rest of the time,’” Joiner recalled.
Treadway and Joiner’s competitiveness kicked in later than Hatton’s Vandiver. From the first day of freshman year, she aimed to earn the honor.
“I’ve always [wanted it],” said Vandiver. “I’ve worked really hard for it and I always knew I had a really good chance at it.”
When the pandemic hit, many students struggled to adapt. Their social lives were disrupted, and the transition to virtual learning and online lessons was abrupt. According to the CDC, 67 percent of students reported greater difficulty with schoolwork during the pandemic than before.
But Vandiver, Treadway, and Joiner were among the minority. Despite all the challenges, their academic excellence persevered.
“It was definitely an adjustment, especially to our learning,” said Vandiver. “I think it helped our learning [because] it helped our schools catch up with technology, and I don’t think we lost very many learning opportunities from the pandemic.
“Whenever it happened they invested in the website that colleges use for their math classes, so it has got us ahead of the game for our college math classes.”
Treadway agreed. Though she admitted there was a social shift being outside the classroom, her learning wasn’t interrupted.
“For me it wasn’t really that bad because I did fine in virtual learning,” said Treadway. “But I know some kids really struggled with that just because you didn’t have a teacher right there making you do your assignments… It was definitely very different.
“I had certain friends in each class, so not being able to see those certain people… was definitely hard.”
Joiner didn’t find studying during the pandemic difficult. It took her only a few hours to finish a week of assignments. But the ease was disconcerting; it felt like she wasn’t learning.
“It was just hard for me because I actually wanted to learn,” Joiner explained, “and I didn’t.
“Socially, it was really difficult because I was a social butterfly. It caused me to really isolate myself, and then it was difficult for me to actually hangout with my friends when we finally could.”
“I’m just glad,” said Treadway, “that we finally got to have a normal year of high school our senior year.”
In the fall, Vandiver and Treadway will attend the red school in Tuscaloosa. They’ll major in biology and elementary education, respectively. Vandiver plans to attend medical school and become a general practitioner. She hopes to one day open her own practice – maybe in Lawrence County, where she can be close to her family.
“I’m excited to further my education,” said Vandiver, “and to continue into the future and go make a difference in the world.”
Teaching was Treadway’s first love. She has considered other pursuits – law and nursing among them – but always returned to leading a classroom.
“I do better with kids,” said Treadway. “Adults are not my thing. I feel like kids, they – their innocence – I like that. Just getting to help kids is really intriguing to me.”
Joiner will head to UNA. She hasn’t chosen a major yet; though she’s interested in biochemistry, she wants more time before she commits to a specific path.
“I have my major down as ‘Undecided,’” said Joiner. “I didn’t want all my classes to be geared towards one thing if that’s what I didn’t really want to do.”
In a few short days, they’ll step onto stages and address their fellow graduates. They’ll throw their caps and be through. But until then, they’ll look back, remember, and enjoy what was.
“It’s going to be hard to leave everybody I’ve known and been friends with my whole life,” said Treadway.
“I’m not sad right now, but I will be later,” said Joiner. “I really did love high school – just being there with my friends.”
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