WINCHESTER — Caroline Grace Patnode knows that to succeed in life, you just have to keep swimming.

She learned this both literally and metaphorically when she taught at a swim camp last summer at Snowden Bridge Residence Club in Stephenson.

“They gave us one day of training and said, ‘OK, you’re going to teach them how to swim,’” Caroline said. “The next day, six kids came. Teaching six kids, ages 5 to 8, in the water where they can drown was very stressful.”

Caroline, 17, isn’t the type to back down from a challenge, perhaps due to the examples set by her parents, retired U.S. Air Force officers Scott and Jeanne Patnode.

At Handley High School, Caroline has scored a 5.67 weighted GPA. There are 310 students in the senior class. The school does not rank its students. She hasn’t missed a day of school in five years.

Caroline is president of the Class of 2017, captain of Handley’s debate team, a former participant in the Virginia Girls State program, a member of the National Honor Society and a two-time Lincoln Douglas Champion in the Shenandoah Valley Forensics League.

Caroline will attend Washington and Lee University in Lexington this fall, where she plans to study business administration and accounting.

In addition to being a scholar, the Star Leadership Award candidate is also an accomplished dancer at Vostrikov’s Academy of Ballet and Virginia Youth Ballet in Winchester.

“I really love my dance studio,” she said. “I’ve been dancing there since I was 4 years old, longer than I’ve been in school. It’s really become a second home to me, so I just love spending my time there and helping out any way I can.”

Caroline’s ballet and pointe teacher, Melissa Largent, has no shortage of accolades for her student.

“She has balanced rigorous coursework and demanding extracurricular activities with grace, never showing even a hint of frustration or fatigue,” Largent wrote in a letter of recommendation to the Star Leadership Award Selection Committee. “When I think of the ideal leader, it is an individual who leads with integrity and respect, celebrates accomplishments big and small, and provides inspiration and encouragement even in the face of great challenges. These are the characteristics I have witnessed in Caroline Patnode over the last 13 years.”

— Contact Brian Brehm at

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