By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published April 30, 2015
Following an annual tradition, The Georgia Bulletin has taken the opportunity to shine the spotlight on some of the extraordinary high school seniors who grace our Catholic schools in the area.
Leaders at the seven Catholic high schools in the Atlanta Archdiocese were asked to nominate a graduating student they believe represents a role model for their students—a student who symbolizes the drive and faith and compassion of the student body—someone that the faculty watched grow from a wide-eyed freshman to a confident leader.
Among these profiles are a senior who teaches a special needs student to ice skate, a teen who started a charity for children struggling with cancer, and a French-speaking immigrant who began her school career answering all questions with a yes or a no without understanding the question. These profiles and all of the others illuminate an attribute of perseverance.
As these young people and all their classmates step toward the future in the next weeks, we wish them well. We are proud to share their stories.
CUMMING—Pinecrest Academy senior Gatlin Winter has a daily goal of trying to do something good for others because of a gift he received as an infant.
Born in December 1995, he was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit with a heart condition. He received a heart transplant when he was 2 months old.
“I do believe I have an angel’s heart,” he said.
Gatlin and his younger brother, Garrison, are the sons of Jill and Todd Winter, the varsity football coach at Pinecrest. When they moved from Illinois three years ago, Gatlin said he felt at home at the independent Catholic school quickly.
“It’s one big happy family,” he said.
Winter said his faith grounds him not only in school but also in life.
“It gives me something to count on,” he said. “The Catholic faith is not just another religion. It’s real.”
From football to the footlights
Gatlin has played football since he was in first grade. A left guard, he helps younger athletes with strength conditioning in the weight room and helps in the film room and at football camps.
“I think football … helped make me tougher,” he said. “I do love the sport.”
As an infant, Gatlin suffered oxygen deprivation while awaiting a donated heart, making him prone to learning disabilities. He has had to put forth more effort academically but doesn’t use it as an excuse. He takes anti-rejection medications daily.
In nominating him as Pinecrest Academy’s outstanding senior, the school said his “work ethic and determination make him adored by teachers and coaches.”
This school year, Winter branched out to participate in the drama program at Pinecrest for the first time, taking Theatrical Arts I and II classes and performing roles as the Captain in “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” as Drake the Butler in “Annie Jr.,” and the Dramaturg in the one-act play, “The Rules of Comedy.”
“It looked interesting. I went for it,” he said.
What he found was a good time and hard work memorizing lines and rehearsing.
“Gatlin has contributed greatly to our program through his enthusiasm for the performing arts and his willingness to try anything,” said Erin McGraw, theatrical arts teacher for the Upper School. “He was often first to volunteer for improv games or class activities and was eager to improve his skills.”
Winter is interested in becoming a police officer and is considering attending Middle Georgia State College in Macon or Columbus State University, where they have a rifle team. He has also participated in the Explorers program for law enforcement in Forsyth County to learn more about that career option.
“I think I’m supposed to help people,” he said about becoming an officer. “With this gift from God … it’s not just pure luck.”
At Pinecrest, Winter has enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow students. “You’ll see a freshman and senior walk side by side every day,” he noted. “I hang out with everybody.”
The support from teachers is also very helpful for Winter.
“All of the teachers do care about you,” he said. “They don’t just give you homework.”
‘One of the strongest … in his faith’
Winter has particularly enjoyed the biology class of Shelly Stafford, who also teaches environmental science, health and anatomy.
“She really grabs your attention. She gives so much detail,” explained Winter.
When not chatting about science, the two talk about their favorite movies.
Stafford said one of his strengths is his ability to ask questions.
“He’s so open,” said Stafford. “He’s very virtuous. He’s probably one of the strongest students in his faith.”
Stafford also emphasized Gatlin’s kindness. “He’s always willing to help others,” she said.
He and his family attend Mass at both St. Brendan the Navigator Church and Good Shepherd Church in Cumming.
While visiting Pinecrest’s chapel, Gatlin was asked about his favorite saint.
He said that St. Thomas Aquinas is the saint he identifies with because he was able to prove theologically that God exists.
“I think in a way I’ve been able to prove that, too,” he said.