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Part of living in a small, rural community is everybody knows everybody.

That is true in many Tallapoosa County communities, but Reeltown residents take it a step further. They don’t just all know each other; they all support each other and even consider their neighbors family, according to Reeltown co-valedictorians Ethan Dunn and Eryn Wells and salutatorian Jillian Heaster. 

The class leaders, who graduated alongside their classmates Friday night, said one key to their success was community support.

“I have had a great high school experience, despite the (recent) situation (of the COVID-19 pandemic),” Heaster said. “Reeltown is a very close-knit community and everyone feels like family here. I’ve learned compassion and leadership from the teachers at Reeltown.” 

Dunn, who has attended Reeltown his whole life, also said everyone in the community cheers each other on and comes together.

“Everyone just knows everyone and when something goes on, everyone immediately steps in when people need help,” Dunn said. “There’s a really nice support system here.”

Wells agreed and said Reeltown has a friendly atmosphere.

“There’s such a friendly atmosphere at Reeltown,” Wells said. “Anyone can talk to anyone about anything. Everyone just cares about each other and I’m really grateful for that.”

The students also cited hard work as another element to their success. Reeltown principal Tom Cochran echoed this sentiment.

“Reeltown is extremely proud of the all the graduates of the Class of 2020, including our co-valedictorians and salutatorian,” Cochran said. “These students are prime examples that hard work pays off.” 

Heaster will be attending Auburn University in the fall, majoring in secondary education. Her education at Reeltown was one of the determining factors when selecting a major.

“I feel passionate about teaching because of the teachers at Reeltown,” Heaster said. “They have made such a big impact on me as a student and a person. I want to be a good mentor for student the same as they were for me.”

A member of Key Club, Senior Beta Club, Spanish Honorary and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Heaster also served as treasurer and captain of the color guard in the band. Her favorite memories include attending all the football and basketball games with her friends. 

Dunn served as president of Beta Club, vice president of Key Club, captain of the Reeltown Scholars quiz bowl team and a member of Spanish Honorary. Dunn was also on the wrestling team. 

Dunn will be attending the University of Alabama in the fall and is considering majoring in communications with a minor in statics, or within the engineering field. 

Wells will be attending Jacksonville State University in the fall, majoring in pre-health exercise science with plans to later become a physical therapist. 

Transferring to Reeltown in eighth grade, Wells said she learned in high school to stay focused on her goals.

“I’ve learned to bunker down and stay focused,” Wells said. “Having good time management and knowing when to do this and that really does help.”

Wells played basketball, volleyball and track and was a member of Beta Club and Spanish Honorary throughout her high school career. 

“It was really great to learn time management and grow up into the young woman I am,” Wells said. 

Wells shared some important advice for her classmates which can apply to anyone.

“My advice is to always stay focused and have set goals,” Wells said. “It helps to know where you are going because it’s hard to progress if you don’t have any.” 

Cochran hopes the new graduates set forth on a bright path.

“We wish all our graduates the very best in their future endeavors,” Cochran said.