WEST GREENWICH—If there’s one thing that annoys Claudia Heaney the most, it’s 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 she’s 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 year’s class valedictorian for EWG, Claudia Heaney has accomplished the one goal she set out for from the first day of high school. She’s proven she’s different.
“My sister and I, we’ve always been, obviously, very similar,” Heaney said last week. “We’re fraternal twins but we’re still almost genetically the same and we would always been treated the same by our family and friends so I’ve 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 ‘crap, I really need to kick it into gear’ and I would just work harder to try to surpass her.”
That drive to be No. 1 helped Claudia break out of her so-called “shell” and though she admits she’s 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.
“It’s 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,” she said. “At the same time, I have a condition that makes it hard for me to succeed so it’s like I’m being pulled in two different directions.”
Claudia cites that, as an example, sometimes it takes her five hours to do homework assignments her classmates might get done in two.
“I tend to over-think things and want to explain everything in too much detail,” she said.
That attention to detail, while bad for Claudia from a social standpoint—she was so shy in middle school that it was often difficult to make friends—was 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.
“I’m 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,” she said.
What’s even better for Claudia is that she beat Joanne, who finished third. Not that her sister minds, of course.
“She doesn’t really care about it,” said Claudia with a brief chuckle. “I just kind of freak out about my rank and she doesn’t really care. She actually doesn’t tell me her grades. She doesn’t like telling me them because she knows it stresses me out and she thinks the whole competitive thing is stupid.”
That Joanne is so relaxed about the whole situation makes Claudia even happier.
“I’m happy that she’s like that because, again, one of the reasons I’ve done this is to set myself apart from her so the fact that she doesn’t feel the same way as I do, I’m kind of happy about that.”
High school wasn’t entirely perfect for Claudia. There were rare moments of disappointment and failure—like when she got a ‘B’ on an exam her sophomore year—but it was one misstep that set her on her future path unlike any other and taught her the meaning of getting back up when you’re down.
“I really wanted to go to Brown but I got waitlisted and I really didn’t want to have to put myself through that stress of not knowing if I would get in,” she explained. “That was really hard because I love Brown.”
After accepting that her college life wouldn’t consist of trips to Thayer Street in Providence, Heaney found the place she says she was destined for—William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia—completely by accident on a road trip to Virginia to visit other schools.
“We just had a free afternoon so we were like ‘want to go check out that school? I heard it’s really pretty!’,” she said while enthusiastically holding up a W&M button on her backpack. “And I ended up really liking it, mainly because it has an excellent academic reputation. I just kind of fell in love with that school.”
Claudia hasn’t decided on a course of study yet and, for the first time, isn’t 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 she’s leaving high school has yet to sink in.
“I don’t feel any different,” she said. “I still feel like it’s not really happening and I’m 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 I’m going to feel like a little kid playing dress up when I’m up there in my poncho or whatever it is. I can’t really process it.”
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.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “I can’t wait for an opportunity to start over and I plan on not telling people I’m a twin at first so they can sort of get to know me.”
If there’s one thing Claudia Heaney has made abundantly clear in her time at Exeter-West Greenwich High School, it’s that she’s unlike anyone else.