"My parents placed the value of experience over the value of material things," Vannatter said. "I didn't have all the stuff and the toys that my friends had growing up, and when I was younger, I absolutely hated it. But instead of having those things, we would go on trips."
When she was 5, Vannatter went on her first trip with her family, a vacation to Mexico. Since then, she has traveled abroad on a three-week trip to Europe, including stops in London, Rome and Paris. Later, her family devoted three months to backpacking across Europe and learning about the culture.
She also has traveled to Spain, both with her parents and independently.
As she matured, Vannatter said, she began to appreciate these experiences.
"I would take these experiences any day over any material thing you could give me," she said. "My passion and love for culture and language has become more ardent than ever because of them."
Vannatter, the daughter of Mark and Janet Vannatter, is the Paducah Bank Teen of the Week.
Each week in the online edition and Tuesday in the print edition, The Sun features a teen selected from nominees submitted by guidance counselors throughout the region.
Near the end of the school year, one of the students profiled will be named Teen of the Year and receive a $5,000 scholarship. An additional student will be chosen for an Inspiration Award and a $1,000 scholarship.
Vannatter said sports has been a big part of her high school experience, having played volleyball, soccer, tennis, softball and track and field at St. Mary High School.
"Because it's such a small school and they do give us the opportunity to participate in so many things, you get to grow with different types of people," Vannatter said.
Vannatter also has held a variety of leadership positions during her time in high school, including captain of the volleyball team, captain of the varsity academic team, service chairman of the St. Mary High School Catholic Youth Leaders, class treasurer, and senior representative for student senate.
"Being in leadership positions gives me a platform, not to boss others around, but to delegate tasks," Vannatter said.
"I feel like my interpersonal communication skills have strengthened, because I'm able to listen to everyone's ideas and then figure out ways to implement them in activities."
Vannatter said she believes her character has strengthened in high school.
"I think positivity really helps, because no one likes a negative leader," she said.
As a senior in high school, Vannatter said she believes the pressure to choose a future life path right away is on "full blast," but she's not quite ready to decide.
As she awaits admissions and scholarship decisions from several colleges, including the University of Chicago, New York University, Boston College and Princeton, there are two career dreams Vannatter said she would love to pursue.
The only problem, she said, is being torn between the two.
"I would absolutely love to study biology on a pre-med track and attend an esteemed medical school after I graduate from my undergraduate program," she said. "After I receive my education and degrees, my dream for a long time was to be a pediatric surgeon at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital."
But there has been another dream on Vannatter's mind lately, one she says could not be more different than her medical aspirations. The idea of an education in international relations, she said, fascinates her and harbors her passion for traveling.
"Traveling and learning about other cultures brings me such joy and is the basis of my other career option," she said. "At the post-secondary institution I attend in the fall, I would study international relations and affairs, possibly specializing in social sciences, and learning the foundations of the social aspects surrounding different cultures."
No matter what decision she makes, Vannatter said she can't wait to see what the world will throw at her. She is excited for the journey that awaits.
"Traveling opened my eyes to not only the needs in the world, but also in my own backyard and what our community needs," she said. "I really do have a passion for service. I think my love for traveling and those experiences fueled that."