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GRADUATION 2018: Forsyth Central's Panetta aiming for a career in the FBI
Forsyth Central High School senior Sydney Panetta of the Class of 2018 plans to double major in criminal justice and Arabic at the University of Georgia and dreams of working at the FBI. - photo by Brian Paglia

Sydney Panetta has been on the Forsyth Central High School mock trial team the past three years, and the experience has given her a good feel for what life is like as the underdog. The Bulldogs had not qualified for the region championship, let alone won it, in 13 years. 

Until this past school year. 

Panetta and Central won the region championship, besting bigger-named schools with more established leadership.

“Getting to beat some of the bigger-named schools, it’s very rewarding as the underdog,” Panetta said.

More in this series

Read Q&As with graduating seniors from around the county.

Horizon Christian Academy: Denver Susong

Lambert: Chen Lin

North Forsyth: JoAnn Ahn

Pinecrest Academy: Sam Adams

South Forsyth: Paul Murray

West Forsyth: Emma Gran

Panetta’s involvement in mock trial dovetailed with her future aspirations for a while. She considered being a lawyer or a politician, but she’s outgrown those ambitions. Now, she plans to double major in criminal justice and Arabic at the University of Georgia and dreams of working at the FBI. 

At Central, Panetta found a place that nurtured all her ambitions and talents. In addition to participating on the mock trial team, she was vice president of the Student Council for two years, president of Beta Club and was a part of Central Ambassadors, National Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society, DECA and the girls’ soccer program for two years.

“It’s an easy place to want to be,” Panetta said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

Q: What college did you choose to go to?

A: The University of Georgia. It was actually the only place that I applied. It was bold, an optimistic choice. … I’ll be challenged consistently as an intellectual and also as a person, but it’s still home enough to where I think I can thrive without feeling an undue amount of pressure.

Q: What do you have planned as your future major?

A: I’m looking at a double major in criminal justice and Arabic. I think everybody should major in a language. That’s a weird personal opinion of mine. But Arabic specifically is extremely employable. 

Q: What was your favorite subject?

A: AP U.S. history. That was largely because of the teacher. His name was Mr. Prince, and he is no longer here but was here for probably a solid decade, maybe two. I think it was a class that more so taught you how to think rather than what to think.

Q: What was your least favorite subject?

A: I’m not a math person. I have never been. Probably freshman year honors pre-calculus was my only B, and I was heart-broken.

Q: Who was your favorite teacher?

A: Her name is Michele Dugan. She coached our mock trial team for the first year that I was on it. She became not only a teacher and a coach, but also a friend and a confidante -- just this vessel of useful, intelligent information. In so many aspects, she’s what I want to emulate as a person.

Q: Do you have a favorite school tradition?

A: Probably the Friday night lights, the football games. They harbor a very strange sense of tight-knit community. The Central Crazies (student section) have been persistent throughout Central’s history. It’s very much a thing people want to be a part of. You wait to be the senior who’s leading the roller coaster. You get to buy a T-shirt with your name on it. It’s very much a thing that students put on a pedestal. 

Q: What was your best school memory?

A: This year was my third year on the school’s mock trial team, and I’ve been the captain for the last two. … This year was the first time in 13 years that the Central team made it into the region championship and then won the region championship. Getting to beat some of the bigger-named schools, it’s very rewarding as the underdog.

Q: What has been your toughest challenge in high school?

A: How to balance involvement. I’m very much somebody who wants to have a hand in everything and just stretch myself as thin as possible. I think the biggest challenge has been figuring how to prioritize and manage the things I want to be significant to me, and probably understanding that I can’t do everything. 

Q: Favorite TV show?

A: The Office.

Q: What is your least favorite household chore?

A: After I take my clothes out of the laundry and fold them, I would rather let them stack up 9-feet tall than actually put them away. That’s very much so a way that I live.

Q: What is your one nervous habit?

A: When I need to hyper-focus on something, I just harbor this really irrational opinion that if I study anywhere other than a coffee shop, I’ll just be studying inadequately. 

Q: What are you most talented at?

A: I do think I’m pretty good at public speaking. Not necessarily crowd control. I’m not necessarily an entertainer. But I think if anybody needed a professional speech done, I think I’d be closer to the top of a list for it. 

Q: What are you least talented at?

A: I have no rhythm. I move up and down and maybe side to side sometimes. I’m the least graceful.

Q: What is something many don’t know about you?

A: I sucked my thumb until I was 9 years old. I don’t tell anyone that. 

Q: What are your career aspirations?

A: I’d like to pursue an international affairs-oriented career, ideally in pursuit of a humanitarian, women’s struggle-oriented field. Ideally, I’d like to apply to the FBI. I’ll probably start with hopefully an internship at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, ideally gaining some experience there before I apply to the FBI. 

Q: Do you have any advice for next year’s seniors?

A: Maybe once every few days, maybe once a week, there is some interaction that I have with somebody where I think, I wish I would’ve invested in this person sooner and deeper. Why did I go so long without fully appreciating this person’s presence? So if I had to give advice, it would just be fully appreciate your time with the people around you, because it’s invaluable, and there’s no telling which direction they’re going.