Lainey Gottfried

Lainey Gottfried, Florence High School’s valedictorian, plans to study for a degree in business on the honors track at University of Arizona.

FLORENCE -- Lainey Gottfried found herself in unfamiliar territory when she moved here from her native Oregon and found school had already been underway for several weeks.

“Moving here in September … Oregon schools don’t start until September. So that was a bit of a problem in freshman year geometry. Because I didn’t have the entire first quarter of information, I just jumped right in the middle.”

She called a friend who had taken geometry the previous year, and asked if she could explain some things. “She was busy, she put her mom on the phone. Her mom explained all that to me.”

Always a good student, it didn’t take Gottfried long to catch up. She graduates this month as Florence High School’s Class of 2021 valedictorian.

She came from a town of about 100,000 people, where her middle school was about the same size as FHS. “But I didn’t know everyone in my grade like I do here. I really like the small-town experience, but I do wish a few things could be closer.”

She has been active on campus, playing softball her first three years at Florence High School, and serving as both vice president and president of National Honor Society, among other activities. She also works at a golf course restaurant. Asked for a favorite high school memory, she had to take a minute to think because there were so many.

“I would say junior year homecoming was really exciting for me. I was part of student council and I got to help with the parade.” She was her team co-captain both years in the powder puff football game, and she won homecoming princess.

She recalled it was also one of the few years in which “we actually got to have a proper bonfire. … a perfect way to have some fun before COVID set in.”

Even COVID-19 has had its bright side, as people tried harder for safe ways to make contact, Gottfried said.

“We discovered Zoom (video conferencing), and there are so many things you can do on there. My family has had game nights, which we would never even do; they live in Oregon. … It’s just interesting how many new modes of socialization are coming from it. Because humans need that.”

Gottfried credits her family with playing a big part of her academic success. Her father, Todd, was a master sergeant in the Marine Corps, and she believes she gets her perfectionism and enjoyment of competition from him. He and her mother, Devona, didn’t push her academically, “because that’s what I was there for.”

But they were there to help her calm down and relax when she became stressed, “and help me to understand that there is more to life; you should enjoy everything around you and have fun every once in a while.”

She added her younger sister, Lorelei, who is almost 13, is “actually my best friend at the moment. Whenever all my friends are busy, she’s the one that I take shopping, and we go get lunch, and go to the pool and play tennis. And she’s always there for me when other people aren’t.”

The other key ingredient, she believes, is having pride and passion in what she does, rather than getting by with the bare minimum.

“When I find projects I really enjoy, I do put 100% of my effort in. I try to put creative things in there just to make it interesting. When I do PowerPoints, I put hyperlinks in there and make it really fun and interactive.

“Time management is necessary, but it’s not the only thing. I’ve definitely seen people who can get things done very quickly. But I would say the magic ingredient is just putting your all into what you do and making the best of every project.”

Gottfried’s plan now is to study for a degree in business on the honors track at University of Arizona. She’s attracted to business because she enjoys being a leader. In National Honor Society, “I loved that aspect where I was able to help run the blood drives and put together all the necessary information. I really liked the planning and logistics of it all.”

She also likes real estate and houses, “so real estate development would be an awesome path to me, but I’m not quite sure yet.” She also wants to earn a master’s degree.

“After that, I’m honestly not sure. … I just plan to enjoy post-COVID life once again.”


Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at

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