The pressure for many high school valedictorians can be stifling. While mostly grateful for finishing at the top of their respective classes, the journey is usually one that provides them with a sense of relief when they graduate.

But, Freedom High Class of 2022 valedictorian Pascale Carvalho says that, for her, there never was any pressure. She loved the journey. And, she has made putting in a ton of hours to earn her Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree from Hillsborough Community College and compiling an 8.5 high school grade point average actually sound, well, fun.

“I was never aiming for a certain spot,” Pascale says. “It was never motivation to do better in school. It was just a perk.”

From the very start of high school, which officially ends with graduation Thursday morning at 8 a.m. at the Florida State Fairgrounds, Pascale made sure to take classes she would enjoy, not just classes that would beef up her GPA. 

Her freshman year, she took music theory because despite already playing the guitar (jazz fusion and rock) and cello — and cymbals in the high school band — she wanted to learn how to read music, too. And now, she writes her own music as well.

“It was an irreplaceable experience,” she says.

As a sophomore, Pascale took a heavy load of dual enrollment classes, because one of her major goals was to earn her A.A. degree prior to actually starting college. Her junior year, she took Japanese at the University of South Florida, because she had an interest in that culture and language.

Her senior year, Pascale took a pair of 4000-level health science classes at USF, another strong area of interest for her. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do in college prior to her senior year, but her wide range of interests and classes has helped clarify that vision. 

While undecided on which college she will attend, she is mulling over acceptance letters from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, for its outstanding music composition programs, or Brown University in Providence, RI, or Washington University in St. Louis, for health sciences.

“My goal was just to give myself the best possible education I could, and provide myself with the best college opportunities, and that’s what I did,” she says.

The groundwork for a successful high school experience was laid by her family. Her parents Chantal and Daniel stressed education — Pascale laughs at the math books and essays Chantal assigned during the summer — and older brother Antoine, a Freedom grad, is at Boston University, while older sister Dominique recently graduated from USF after studying biological health science. 

“They definitely emphasized being good at what you do,” Pascale says. “If you do anything, try to be the best at it.”

Pascale also strove to be her best, but was never consumed with her academic standing. “Being No. 1 is just one of those hoops you go through,” she says. “Once you reach it, (you should) look back, and see if your experience equates to that number. Because it should.”

Pascale’s high school experience also included athletics. While she couldn’t compete her sophomore and junior years due to an undiagnosed neurological problem, she still managed to play two seasons of soccer and, as a senior, was on the swimming and cross country teams.

While she ponders college, Pascale spends her spare time with friends, watching anime and playing her guitar.

But if you ask her to play a tune, don’t expect a rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama.” She didn’t take music theory and Japanese for nothing.

“Well, I like a lot of Japanese music,” she says, laughing, “so it’s probably going to be a random Japanese heavy metal song that nobody’s ever heard.”

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