Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Cristina Couvillion, the salutatorian of The Heritage School in Newnan, was youth of the year from St. George Church in 2015.


Music lets salutatorian ‘give back to other people’

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 25, 2015

NEWNAN—Cristina Couvillion performed her way through high school, playing cello in the orchestra, singing alto in the choir and touring with the Spivey Hall Tour Choir around the United States. Her musical creativity enlightened her academic experience: Cristina graduated as salutatorian in her class of 51 at The Heritage School in Newnan. She will attend Georgia Tech.

Cristina found spiritual enrichment in reaching beyond herself through music. She joined the Spivey Hall choir in fifth grade and began touring in 10th. Along the way she has sung everywhere from the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, to the Mormon Tabernacle in Utah, and heads to Spain this summer.

The Mormon Tabernacle “was just really beautiful,” Couvillion said.

“It was very energizing to look at the audience and see people who paid money to hear us sing and really appreciated that we were good,” she said.

Among her favorites was “Nada Te Turbe,” a choral arrangement of the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila that begins “Let nothing disturb you.”
“That is just about how you can’t let anything frighten you because God is in control,” she said.

‘A reverse procrastinator’

The daughter of Susie and Jose Couvillion, Cristina is a member of St. George Church in Newnan. After graduating from Our Lady of Victory School, Tyrone, she had a difficult ninth-grade transition at Heritage but found her second home in the touring choir where she experienced music’s power to express emotions.

“I wasn’t really sure what to do for a long time, got very anxious, and it started affecting my performances. I definitely got over it in 10th-grade year by joining the tour choir, trying to put aside my personal worries and work with a group. Singing in front of people or playing a song for something, it helped me realize I’m in control of myself,” she said. “It’s given me something to do I am comfortable with, am good at and excited in. It helps me to give back to other people who enjoy performances as I do. It’s been a really worthwhile experience.”

While stretching her vocal cords she was challenged to strengthen her time management skills, which “has been a big part of my being successful in high school.”

“I’m kind of a reverse procrastinator,” she said. “I didn’t want to have fun until I got my work done.”

She grew to appreciate her school’s unique, nurturing environment and enjoyed befriending younger children in the K-12 private school and assisting them in a writing lab. Academically she loved psychology and English and heads to Georgia Tech with plans to pursue her major in the School of History, Technology and Society and eventually earn a master’s degree in social work. Psychology “teaches things you can use in everyday life and it helps you to understand people, and I’m very interested in people and I want to be able to help them.”

In 10th grade the teen volunteered at a hospice where she became interested in social work, especially after visiting a nursing home with coworkers.

“I met some really, really, sweet elderly people who were just lonely and needed someone to talk to,” said Cristina, whose parents are flight attendants. “I’ve always been about helping other people. That’s always been the thing that I excelled at the most.”

‘Only person … against embryonic stem cell research’

Fine arts chair Karrie Jones taught Cristina English, drama and public speaking and described her as organized, diligent and inquisitive and as possessing an outstanding sense of humor.

“Cristina is extremely kind. In all the years I have known her, I have never heard her utter an unkind word about her peers or teachers. She is very supportive of and encouraging to her friends. She has volunteered to play music for two shows at Heritage, including doing all the scoring for our spring murder mystery this year. She is just a remarkable young woman,” Jones wrote in an email.

Her teacher has watched her grow through class participation.

“Cristina academically always strives for her absolute best. She asks questions not just to improve her grades but to better understand the material and to satisfy her intense curiosity,” she said. “In the years that I have known Cristina, she has been more willing to take risks and to argue her strong opinions with her classmates. She does this from a place of confidence and with respect. When she was a freshman she was hesitant to ‘rock the boat,’ but now she is not afraid to respectfully challenge someone else’s ideas.”

Cristina still recalls a freshman biology class discussion.

“I ended up being the only person in my 20-something-person class against embryonic stem cell research and had to defend my point to everyone else. It was kind of scary at the time, but I definitely learned from it, and I think that’s going to benefit me later in life,” she said. “It’s taught me that people have more power to influence their environment than they think.”

With that attitude Cristina also seeks to better understand Catholicism. Named the parish outstanding youth of the year in 2015, she participated at St. George in youth ministry, taught at Vacation Bible School and volunteered in the religious articles store.

“I’m thinking critically about (Catholicism): Why do we do this? I’m going to continue to try to learn as much as I can and keep going to Mass.”

Looking back, she’s grateful for her Heritage education, which has “helped me a lot.”

“It’s taught me that even if you can’t control your surroundings, you can control your reactions,” she said. “My favorite quote is ‘the only difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude.’ If you keep a positive attitude then you will have a lot more fun!”

She’s more excited than nervous to attend Georgia Tech, plus audition for a vocal group.

In visiting Tech “everyone was really kind of nerdy. It’s a fun place to be. I wanted to go to a place where everybody was interested in learning and not just going to party,” she said. “I am going to be a lot less nervous than when I started Heritage. The reason I chose the environment is I thought it would be something I’d be comfortable in, and I’m really looking forward to studying hard.”