By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 12, 2014
ROME—As a shy freshman transitioning to Rome High School from close-knit St. Mary’s Catholic School, Peyton McElhone committed herself to study hard, take pride in her work and maximize her time.
And she did just that, growing into a math scholar, yearbook editor and student council member—while finding her voice as captain of the cheerleading squad.
Shegraduated in May as class salutatorian and will attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
“I wanted to be proud of the work I did,” she said. “I was very excited and honored to be our class salutatorian. It was just being proud of the work I’ve done and giving it a good, honest effort.”
She is the daughter of P.J. and Stephanie McElhone and a member of St. Mary’s Church in Rome.
Academically, she loves math and competed on the school math team and a robotics team. She also was drawn to Spanish classes and the international connections offered by mastering a second language.
“Much quieter and shyer” starting high school, she found support by reaching out to her teachers for guidance.
“I saw all the work my teachers put into teaching us, and I didn’t want to disappoint them,” she said. “I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it turned out to be. … The teachers are so kind and were wanting to make time for me.”
Her yearbook teacher Amanda Howell was an inspiration, she said, who helped her to become “more mature and responsible” and more understanding of diverse types of people.
As yearbook editor “I really liked getting to meet a lot of different people, interviewing them and getting quotes from them,” she said.
Howell said that Peyton always started assignments very early, worked steadily and tackled challenges head on.
“I found out very quickly that she worked quickly and quietly on her tasks and always gave the assignment her best. … She continually kept a calm, respectful and bright attitude. Her warm regard for others created a wonderful working environment in which students were comfortable asking her questions,” Howell said.
“Peyton’s unfailing selflessness and grace make her a quiet observer in many instances, but I have seen her blossom into a great leader,” the teacher said.
Outside of school Peyton practiced gymnastics about 15 hours a week with the Rome Aerials. She is a USA Gymnast at level 8. That naturally led her to cheerleading.
“It was a great way to get to meet people and show my enthusiasm for my high school. … It really helped build confidence, too. I’m much more outgoing because of it,” Peyton said.
In March she underwent back surgery due to overuse. She’s now coaching gymnastics, but hopes to spring back in college and join gymnastics or another school spirit team.
“I always kind of felt it presented a challenge. It was something I had to work hard for, and I really enjoyed working toward goals there,” she said.
“God does have a plan for me and even when I thought everything I loved was ending—cheering and gymnastics—because of surgery, I was able to use that time for other things that I otherwise would’ve never been able to do and now love,” she said.
Peyton’s Catholic faith has grounded her through it all to be honest, moral and disciplined. She prays nightly and keeps a journal, focusing on gratitude.
“It’s always there for me to lean on,” she said. “My traits I’m most proud of I’ve gained through being Catholic.”
One of her greatest honors was to be asked by a friend from gymnastics to be her confirmation sponsor.
“The fact that she respected me well enough and saw me as a good enough role model to be her sponsor was pretty powerful to me,” she reflected. “It was a reminder to me to … make sure I’m living my Catholic faith.”
These profiles recognize Catholic students who are 2014 valedictorians or salutatorians at area public high schools.