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What Comes Next? Top Four From DCHS Class of 2023 Share Goals and Memories

Photo by Lydia Berglar – Graduating at the top of their class, four students (from left) Sidney Jones, Alannah Gray, Bhavi Patel, and Heidi Raines shared their plans for the future and reflections from their time in high school.

News Editor

As the Class of 2023 graduates from Dade County High School this Friday (May 19) and steps into the next adventure, four graduates in particular have been recognized for their academic accomplishments: Bhavi Patel (valedictorian), Alannah Gray (salutatorian), Heidi Raines (faculty representative), and Sidney Jones (class representative).

While all four students took challenging classes while at DCHS, they were also involved in a variety of extracurriculars. Patel, daughter of Shailesh and Vanita Patel, was involved in Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), National Beta Club, Future Health Professionals (HOSA), National Honors Society, and band. The Patels moved from Carrollton, Ga. to Dade County roughly eight years ago.

Gray, daughter of Jody and Marisa Gray, was also involved in FBLA and National Beta Club, as well as the art program.

Raines, daughter of Randy and Rachel Raines, played volleyball and wrestled. While well-known for her impressive wrestling career, Raines sees herself as more than just an athlete, explaining, “Wrestling is something I did, but it’s not my whole life.”

Jones, daughter of Daniel and Andrea Jones, was involved in FBLA, National Beta Club, and the art program. She also served fellow students through the Best Buddies program.

All four students are happy with their extracurricular choices, noting that they got to pursue the activities that interested them and had plenty to keep them busy.

Patel will be attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall, majoring in biomedical sciences on the pre-dental track. Since middle school, she’s known that she wanted to become a dentist.

Gray will be attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the fall to pursue her bachelor’s in graphic design. Gray explained, “I might eventually want to start my own art business locally to do graphic design, create logos, and make physical art, like paintings.” She hopes to help grow Dade County’s art community.

Raines plans to pursue electrical work, potentially own her own business, and work toward her dream of running a farm. “I want to work with my hands,” she said, “and I’ve always wanted a farm. I liked [working with my hands] before taking CTAE (Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education) classes, but I thought I had to go to college. Then, I realized you ain’t gotta go to college to make money.”

Jones will be attending the University of Georgia in the fall, but she is still deciding what to study. She said, “There’s a lot that I want to do. I’m thinking about something in literature or English.”

The girls’ favorite classes while at DCHS align closely with their chosen paths and career aspirations. For Patel, chemistry and math were her favorite subjects, and they were taught by her two favorite teachers, Dr. Doug Bailer and Mr. Stan Gibby, respectively.

Gray enjoyed her English and art classes. Her favorite teachers were Ms. Tonya Gatlin, Ms. Cyndy Bowden, and Dr. Doug Bailer.

Raines said, “I liked my CTAE classes and pretty much any teacher I had there.” She took welding, electrical, carpentry, and business classes through the CTAE program. Ms. Tonya Gatlin, who taught the CTAE business classes, was one of Raines’ favorite teachers. 

For Jones, English was her favorite subject, and Ms. Tonya Gatlin and Ms. Maggie Luke were her favorite teachers.

When reflecting on favorite high school memories, the students primarily focused on time spent with friends. Jones added that being on homecoming court was a pleasant surprise, and Patel said she enjoyed having a flexible school schedule this past year.

Gray added, “I really enjoyed our senior trip to Dollywood, and sophomore year, we got to do a chalk art competition. Sidney and I won, and it was a blast. We got to draw all day and go around to all the booths.”

While the two graduates who are moving away for college (Patel and Jones) would also consider settling in a larger city, they all four appreciate growing up in Dade County because of the small town feel and tight-knit community. Jones said, “Everyone knows each other here. You can go into a restaurant and see someone you know and have a conversation.”

Raines said, “I like being in a small town. I’m pretty much related to most everybody.” Raines would consider moving somewhere less populated like Bryant or Higdon, Ala.

When considering what advice they would offer their younger selves if they could, Gray said, “Hard work pays off. My freshman year, I started taking AP classes, and I was already working on keeping my grades up. Now, I’m salutatorian so I feel like it’s paid off.”

Patel added, “I would tell myself that hard work does pay off, but also to enjoy your time. Don’t be caught up in constant studying.”

Throughout high school, Jones learned that a support system is important and readily available. She said, “You just have to ask for help when you need it. I would tell my freshman self to make connections with people. Enjoy your time and make time for friendships.”

Raines’ advice is, “Be yourself and don’t try to fit in to get people to like you.” Raines also explained that if she could go back, she wouldn’t take challenging classes just for the sake of taking them. She said, “After my freshman year, I realized I really didn’t want to go to college, but I took [those classes] anyway just in case.”

To the entire Class of 2023, congratulations! Your community is proud of you, and we’re excited to watch what you do next.

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