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WEST GREENWICHâIf thereâs one thing that annoys Claudia Heaney the most, itâs being constantly compared to her twin sister Joanne.
Sure, the two may have a similar sense of humor, a similar group of friends and, oh, they look exactly alike, but Claudia prides herself on her individuality. So much so, in fact, that sheâs spent the past four years working as hard as she could on every test, homework assignment and class project just to distance herself academically from Joanne.
Little did she know that, in the process, she would also distance herself from everyone else in the class of 2011 at Exeter-West Greenwich High School.
As this yearâs class valedictorian for EWG, Claudia Heaney has accomplished the one goal she set out for from the first day of high school. Sheâs proven sheâs different.
âMy sister and I, weâve always been, obviously, very similar,â Heaney said last week. âWeâre fraternal twins but weâre still almost genetically the same and we would always been treated the same by our family and friends so Iâve kind of used my higher academic rank and class rank to set myself apart. So if she got a really good grade on a test, if she got a higher grade on a test than I did, I would be like âcrap, I really need to kick it into gearâ and I would just work harder to try to surpass her.â
That drive to be No. 1 helped Claudia break out of her so-called âshellâ and though she admits sheâs still a little behind socially compared to many of her classmates, her four years at EWG took her to where she is today: at the top of her class and on the edge of adulthood.
Not bad for a student who suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder and often struggles to stay focused.
âItâs definitely hard because, not to sound conceited, but I think I am an intelligent kid and that, along with being a twin and just naturally competitive, has made me want to succeed,â she said. âAt the same time, I have a condition that makes it hard for me to succeed so itâs like Iâm being pulled in two different directions.â
Claudia cites that, as an example, sometimes it takes her five hours to do homework assignments her classmates might get done in two.
âI tend to over-think things and want to explain everything in too much detail,â she said.
That attention to detail, while bad for Claudia from a social standpointâshe was so shy in middle school that it was often difficult to make friendsâwas fantastic for her academically.
Heaney was the top-ranked student at EWG at the end of each of the last four years and, upon hearing the news she was the class valedictorian, she felt her competitive drive and hard work had finally paid off.
âIâm definitely happy about it but, at the same time, not in a conceited way, but I kind of expected myself to be because I always have high expectations for myself,â she said.
Whatâs even better for Claudia is that she beat Joanne, who finished third. Not that her sister minds, of course.
âShe doesnât really care about it,â said Claudia with a brief chuckle. âI just kind of freak out about my rank and she doesnât really care. She actually doesnât tell me her grades. She doesnât like telling me them because she knows it stresses me out and she thinks the whole competitive thing is stupid.â
That Joanne is so relaxed about the whole situation makes Claudia even happier.
âIâm happy that sheâs like that because, again, one of the reasons Iâve done this is to set myself apart from her so the fact that she doesnât feel the same way as I do, Iâm kind of happy about that.â
High school wasnât entirely perfect for Claudia. There were rare moments of disappointment and failureâlike when she got a âBâ on an exam her sophomore yearâbut it was one misstep that set her on her future path unlike any other and taught her the meaning of getting back up when youâre down.
âI really wanted to go to Brown but I got waitlisted and I really didnât want to have to put myself through that stress of not knowing if I would get in,â she explained. âThat was really hard because I love Brown.â
After accepting that her college life wouldnât consist of trips to Thayer Street in Providence, Heaney found the place she says she was destined forâWilliam & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginiaâcompletely by accident on a road trip to Virginia to visit other schools.
âWe just had a free afternoon so we were like âwant to go check out that school? I heard itâs really pretty!â,â she said while enthusiastically holding up a W&M button on her backpack. âAnd I ended up really liking it, mainly because it has an excellent academic reputation. I just kind of fell in love with that school.â
Claudia hasnât decided on a course of study yet and, for the first time, isnât stressing out about her academic life. For now, she just wants to take every day as it comes and enjoy her final summer before college, even if the idea that sheâs leaving high school has yet to sink in.
âI donât feel any different,â she said. âI still feel like itâs not really happening and Iâm just going to keep going to high school for the rest of my life. I was actually writing potential [graduation] speech ideas and I said that on graduation Iâm going to feel like a little kid playing dress up when Iâm up there in my poncho or whatever it is. I canât really process it.â
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of college life, particularly the fact that it will take place out of Rhode Island, is that, for the first time, Claudia will be able to establish herself as an individual and meet new people who have no idea that she has a twin sister.
âI canât wait,â she said. âI canât wait for an opportunity to start over and I plan on not telling people Iâm a twin at first so they can sort of get to know me.â
If thereâs one thing Claudia Heaney has made abundantly clear in her time at Exeter-West Greenwich High School, itâs that sheâs unlike anyone else.