WALLINGFORD — Any time Natalie DiDomenico walked into a classroom it was an opportunity at self-improvement, a chance to get a little better than she was the day before.
That perseverance led her to the top spot in her class.
DiDomenico, 18, was announced as Sheehan High School’s valedictorian at a meeting of the Board of Education last week. She will be attending Villanova University in the fall to study accounting.
"For me, it was never about becoming valedictorian. If someone performs better than me, I am always so happy for them. It was just about doing work that I was proud of and being the best version of myself that I could be. When doing my work, it was way more than just competing with others, I would rather try to help them and pull them up with me. Becoming valedictorian was incidental, becoming a supportive peer and reliable student was intentional," DiDomenico said.
In addition to holding the top rank in her senior class and taking nine Advanced Placement courses, she was president of the National Honor Society and one of 23 seniors to achieve recognition as a varsity scholar. She received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for over 200 hours of community service. The list goes on.
Becoming valedictorian is a goal that is almost impossible to achieve without a combination of determination, planning, and intelligence, qualities that Sheehan educators say that DiDomenico has in abundance.
“It was about going that extra step and having teachers who will take the extra step with you,” DiDomenico said, expressing gratitude to teachers all throughout the district who helped her.
Dave Giardina, director of bands at Sheehan, has watched DiDomenico do this since she arrived in high school. DiDomenico is an accomplished trumpeter – although she modestly shies away from that description. She picked up the instrument in fourth grade and since it was the one she could make a true sound on, DiDomenico gave it a go.
The band became an intrinsic part of her high school experience. DiDomenico was a section leader and performed in the marching and jazz bands, as well in the orchestra for the school musicals.
“She is self-motivated and dependable. She never gives up,” Giardina said.
This past year, she had a featured solo in the marching band, performing in weekly competitions. She kept working, adjusting her performance a bit each time, seeking to become better.
“This is something that is hard to teach - it’s having the will to put your heart and soul into what you do to achieve greatness. With that, Natalie was not only able to express herself musically, but became a true role model to her peers,” Giardina said.
DiDomenico’s specialty is science and mathematics, a natural fit for someone who, in her own words, “want to put my brain towards something and get the right answer.” But participating in the band gave DiDomenico a group of friends, people who became a support network.
“It always felt like a family to me … I have a group of people with whom I have very good memories,” DiDomenico said.
The band was a place where she learned perhaps one of her most important lessons in high school: “I wanted to find things that bring me joy,” DiDomenico said.
Joy can be contagious. Giardina described DiDomenico as someone who connected with her classmates. “When Natalie walks into a room, she immediately puts a smile on everyone’s face,” Giardina said. “She’s a happy kid.”
Principal Enzo Zocco, who escorted DiDomenico to the school’s Powder Puff Luncheon, agrees. “Natalie is a kind, caring, mature young lady who truly cares about others and makes others feel better by simply being in her presence,” Zocco said.
On the one hand DiDomenico has a firm plan for the future – accounting, perhaps pre-law. But on the other, imagining five years forward, she thinks she’ll be travelling – Italy and the Maldives are at the top of her list – perhaps doing some volunteer work.
“I think I am going to go where the wind blows me,” she said.
Because of COVID-19 DiDomenico will not have a traditional graduation ceremony but deeply hopes that the virus will not be the only thing anyone remembers about the Sheehan High School class of 2020.
“It’s not about three rough months. It’s about 45 great (months) and keeping those in front of your mind and using them to push you forward,” DiDomenico said.