Three years ago, Christmas was right around the corner and Mrs. Jo-Ann Carroll’s literature class at Cinnaminson High School had a test just before students headed to winter break.
The test didn’t go so well for a freshman who would eventually become class president.
“I totally bombed,” Rachel Wixted recalled. “I was like, ‘Do I even want to know what I got?’ And Mrs. Carroll said, ‘I don’t think you do. You don’t want this just before Christmas.’
“I really had to work hard to make up my grade from that class and I had to start pushing myself to get it higher,” Wixted added. “And I think she realized that, too. And so I think that’s when it started, when I started to try even harder to get my grades to where I wanted them. She’s a great teacher; I give her a lot of credit for that.”
The credit also goes to Wixted, of course, who took one bad grade as a wakeup call and propelled it into a high school career that was among the very best of the class of 2020. Wixted, who will study biology and pre-med at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, finished her esteemed high school career as the school’s salutatorian.
During the memorable 2019-’20 school year, Wixted was neck and neck with Cinnaminson valedictorian Abby McDonald and soccer teammate Kayla Decker for the top three spots in the class. All three are friends, which is hardly surprising at the small, close-knit school.
“We’re all in the same classes,” Wixted said. “It wasn’t meant to be a competition, but I think it kind of helped push each of us to do better … Everyone in our classes excelled.”
Aside from one blip on the aforementioned lit test in December of her freshman year, Wixted came up through the Cinnaminson school system as a studious kid who was driven to succeed. She didn’t need anyone else to motivate her or keep her in line; Wixted was her own toughest critic and it made her strive to give her all in each of her classes.
It’s a mentality that should translate well to her career choice: Wixted wants to go to med school to be a pediatrician.
“I’ve always wanted to help little kids as a doctor,” she said.
Her interests in the medical field are so strong that Wixted would literally take notes while watching “Grey’s Anatomy,” jotting down the names of medical terms or procedures mentioned on the TV show in order to do her own research later.
“A little weird,” Wixted said with a self deprecating laugh, “but I thought it was so cool.”
A well-rounded scholar athlete, Wixted was also a member of a girls soccer program that advanced to four consecutive South Jersey Group 2 championship games during her high school career, including the Pirates’ thrilling sectional title victory at Haddonfield in 2017.
When she considered the speech she’ll have to give at Cinnaminson’s socially distant, in-person graduation next month, Wixted said she would be “focusing on looking at the bright side” of her class’ time in high school rather than all that was lost in their final spring.
“I know a lot of people have been bashing everything, how we got gypped and so many things, but we did get to start summer early,” Wixted said. “We’ve been out of school (for a while). There are so many things to look forward to. Everyone is still going to school in the fall, we’ve got (graduates headed to the) military, to culinary school, a lot of people going to great colleges, so I think there’s just so much to be thankful for.”
The Cinnaminson class of 2020 may have become stronger through what they endured in the spring, with the pandemic taking away prom and the senior trip, among other things, but Wixted said the seniors came together long before that, on their performance on Pep Rally Day in October.
“The past three years, our pep rally had been bad: We won none of the things, no one would dress up,” she acknowledged.
“Last year the juniors — they were sophomores at the time — they beat us. This year they were like, ‘We’re going to beat them again; it’s going to be so easy.’ So we all rallied together and we won every pep rally game, everyone dressed up and everyone had so much fun with it. And we got the spirit stick. So that was such a good time.”
When Wixted looks back on the last four years, she will of course remember a senior year like no other, but she’ll also know the class of 2020 had a lot to be proud about with many memories to cherish, too.