Back in April, I was approached by my English teacher to contribute a piece of writing to what would eventually become a collection of Shawsheen-student perspectives on Covid-19 and its effect on our lives. Essentially, my words would be included in a published book that would be accessible to students in the future. As I reflect on this piece of writing now, over two months later, there was one line in particular that I feel embodies my entire experience.
My name is Grace Clark, and I can now officially say I am a graduate of Shawsheen Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School. A Bedford resident my whole life, my decision to go to Shawsheen wasn’t exactly what was expected of me back in middle school, with less than 10 Bedford students in my graduating class. However, that decision that seemed so odd back then proved to be one of the best decisions thus far in my life. I was able to expand my network of people beyond Bedford, and create a family in a community that before I never dreamed of. I was able to not only get my honors academic education, but I was able to learn a trade, specifically masonry, and create a tight-knit family within that shop. I was able to get involved in life-changing organizations such as SkillsUSA, join clubs, and play varsity softball. I even found myself returning to John Glenn Middle School to advocate for Shawsheen and speak to students directly about the school.
All of my accomplishments throughout high school were promised a celebration, an ending that would bring this period of my life to a close in a way that brought both anticipation for the future, as well as a healthy feeling of closure. But just like you can’t predict tomorrow, no one could have predicted how my senior year would end.
Everything escalated quickly, and what started as a freebie week where I’d get more time to study for my physics test, began to take the form of something that no one could’ve prepared for. Statistics were coming in left and right about the spread of coronavirus, and schools began stating their closure for weeks, some months, and some suspending their academic years altogether. What originally felt like a breather, became a four-month-long quarantine, one that would strip away my softball season, my senior activities and events, and above all, a send-off that would bring closure to this period of my life. But that’s just the surface. My friends and family that were supposed to be celebrating alongside me were now six feet away. Businesses across the country began to close, threatening the livelihoods and economies in households throughout the world. Instead of people holding doors for one another, they were dodging others and running from coughs that even hinted they were sick.
What the world described as a pandemic, quickly became a pandemonium.
The common thing I hear from family and friends, even strangers that are curious about my experience as a graduate senior in the class of 2020, is that they feel awful for what I’m missing out on. But, just like I said in my writing for the book, “while I can’t forgive the universe for taking away these milestones, I owe the universe so much for keeping me and those close to me alive and healthy.” Hardships, I’ve learned, are inevitable. You cannot control the actions of others and the experiences that the universe puts you through. However, what is not inevitable is failure. Just because you can’t control the situation, doesn’t mean that you can’t control the outcome. The outcome of a situation is completely dependent on your reaction, and if you treat any situation in that respect, then regardless of its complications, you will be able to overcome it.
While I could not control the complications that Covid-19 brought upon the senior class this year, I could control my reaction. Instead of wallowing in the loss of my milestones, I remained positive for myself, my friends, and my family. I treated remote learning as if it were normal, and I treated my drive-thru promenade as if it were the celebration I anticipated. Instead of mourning my softball senior and captain’s season, I reflected upon the successful seasons in years past. At graduation, I proudly crossed the stage, joined by my fellow masonry students — scratch that — family, and relished in the moment rather than reflect on what ‘could have been.’ Celebrating and expressing my gratitude for scholarships I received came in the form of mail and email, and even though there was no opportunity to thank them face-to-face, I treated my letters and emails as if I were speaking to those people in person.
Nothing about the end to my senior year was considered normal, but instead of treating it that way, I took the experiences and opportunities in stride and altered my perspective to appreciate all that I possibly could: the health of my family and friends, the strengthened bond between myself and those close to me, and the experiences I’ve had that have led me to this point in my life. For those, and for everything, I am extremely grateful.
At the end of my writing that I submitted for Shawsheen’s collection of Covid-19 experiences, I expressed a list of things that, from here on out, no one should neglect to appreciate. Whether it’s a hug from your friends, a test you’ve been dreading, a backpack that feels a little too heavy, or even a trip to the grocery store… there are so many small things in life that we fail to appreciate the value of.
I hope this pandemic has taught us differently.