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Celia promises to lead HHS
 with care school showed her

Celia Donaldson was elected HHS president for the 2019-20 school year. Celia Donaldson was elected HHS president for the 2019-20 school year.

Celia Donaldson told students at Hendersonville High School that as their leader she could not promise to deliver tastier cookies or softer toilet tissue. But she could promise to make student assemblies livelier and to serve as president with the kind of compassion that saved her after her brother’s death.


The students responded by electing her.
When Celia, 17, became the 2019-20 president of the school on May 2, she received a measure of triumph in a year marked with tragedy. Her brother, Seth, died last Oct. 28 in a fall from a 12th story window from a condo in New Orleans. Celia’s older brother, Val, is a 2012 graduate of HHS.
Although a coroner ruled Seth’s death a suicide, Celia’s parents, Amy and Scott Donaldson, have pressed a campaign to force authorities to take a closer look at the circumstances of their son’s death. A 2014 graduate of HHS, Seth was working as cook at two of New Orleans’ most renowned restaurants when he met friends from Hendersonville at the condo the night of his death. The Donaldsons have hired an attorney to pursue a lawsuit and the couple has traveled to New Orleans to meet with a police commissioner, detectives, city officials and news reporters.
Asked whether her parents’ pursuit of a deeper probe remains a topic in her home, Celia, 17, says that it is — “It’s there a lot.” But she wants her story to be about her brother’s life, not his death, and also about how her high school helped her survive a terribly painful time.
“He was just someone that I could really learn from,” she says of Seth. Did she enjoy cooking, like her brother? She scoffs at that.
“I like cereal,” she says.
She admires his ability to make friends and his genuine affection for those around him.
“He was a really personable person,” she says. “I want to be like that too. I feel like being in a position where I have to talk a lot (as president), maybe I’ll get better at that and maybe I’ll be more like him.”

‘Home was really hard’


In her campaign speech, she did not bury the lead of the story.
“This has been a hard year for me not just because of AP classes and the junior research paper but as I’m sure a lot of you get, home was really hard,” she told the students. “My brother passed away this year. Other bad things happened and frankly this has been the hardest year of my life. I don’t mention this for sympathy votes but I think that everything that we go through is what makes us today.”
With a maturity and insight that belied her youth, she revealed her pain but also the path that has helped lead her through the pain. The path ran through the halls of HHS.
“And I think there’s a certain beauty associated with hurt. I saw this quote a while ago that said that ‘wisdom is nothing more than healed pain,’” she said in the speech. “When it happened I didn’t ever want to go to school again. I didn’t want to care about anything. I was depressed. But through the help of this school and the wonderful teachers who helped me and understood what I was going through I was able to get through the hardest year of high school with good grades and a good attitude.”
She names the two teachers who helped the most — Jessica Houston and Jessica Eblen. The Jessicas were there for her every day. They attended Seth’s funeral.
“When it happened, my teachers were like super helpful,” she says. A cousin who was going through a painful experience attended a high school in Durham where no one seemed to notice.
“Here, it wasn’t like that,” she says. “They gave me as much time as I needed and the teachers were super-understanding that like, I can’t make it every day of the week. I can’t do that. They were really supportive.
HHS principal Bobby Wilkins seems proud if unsurprised that a student in pain would feel comforted and safe in the Bearcat halls.
“I think that’s part of our culture,” he says. “It’s stuff we do every day, not just narrowed down to that kind of stuff, it’s all kind of staff. It’s how we treat our kids. That’s the basic idea.”

'I really just want to give back to this place'


Her brother’s death was the elephant in the room, and Celia didn’t try to avoid it. But she moved on from the saddest moment of her life to some practical campaign promises.
“I can’t promise that I can bring back the better cookies that Michelle took from us or better toilet paper that isn’t thin and crusty,” she said, “but I can promise to make these assemblies more exciting.”
CeliaDonaldsonThe all-female Student Government Association at Hendersonville High School, from left, is Nikki Schedivy, rising senior, secretary; Miriam Smith, rising junior, vice president; Celia Donaldson, rising senior, president; Erin Price, rising senior, treasurer; and Gabby Ray, rising junior, vice president.Celia, the first female HHS president in a few years, led a slate of young women. The secretary, treasurer and two vice presidents of the Student Government Association are all female. Celia’s cabinet members use words like personable, welcoming and friendly to describe the school’s leader.
“I like the confidence she has,” says Nikki Schedivy, a rising senior who was elected secretary.
“I’m easy to talk to and I really like getting to know people and learn about what they’re about,” Celia told her fellow students. “I also think I’m pretty good at public speeches. If I’m not, you can just tell me after and I’ll just fix it.”

Wilkins predicts Celia will do fine as HHS president.
“I think she’s a got a lot of great ideas,” he says. “I think she’s going to be a perfect president for this rising group of seniors and the whole school. I think she’ll do a great job.”
She had one more secret weapon to sweeten her pitch on Election Day.
“The last day of voting I handed out Dum-Dums. I bought three bags of Dum-Dums because they were half off — like 250 in each pack,” she says. There was no limit to the lollipop largesse. “Have as many as you want,” she told the voters.
In the campaign speech, circling back once more to last fall, she delivered a thank you and made a promise.
“I’m running because I want to serve the teachers who really helped me with everything,” she said. “I want to serve my friends at this school who were there for me. I really just want to give back to this place.”