Senior won’t let unique graduation experience derail goals for future

Editor's note: This column is part of a series by Lakeshore residents about their experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

I never thought that my high school graduation might resemble a McDonald's drive-thru. But, in this time of COVID-19, last week's cap-and-gown pickup line was the start of a graduation process that seems to have wheels incorporated into it rather than the traditional graduation walk. Next up is a full week of virtual and socially distanced graduation events during the week of May 18th, two of which involve wheels...a senior parade on Tuesday and Friday night lights.

When arriving at West Ottawa High School, I could hear music blasting as we entered the parking lot. As I joined the car line, I could clearly see the teachers fully decorated in 2020 graduation gear. I was met with cheers from some of my favorite teachers and administrators. It made me forget that this isn't how any of this was originally planned and brought a smile to my face. I got to drive down the line and either drop off my Chromebook or return a book. I was met each time with an enthusiastic greeting and congratulations. 

Then, at the end of the line, they asked me my name. I gave it and, in return, I got a cap and gown. And just like that, it was done. It was a bit surreal for me, and I'm sure for a lot of my friends as well. 

A time of celebration

For the first three and a half years of high school, I thought my graduation would be indistinguishable from those of years past. Instead, this has turned out to be a unique and unforgettable end to my senior year. Even though the grand walk across the stage to shake the principal's hand is up in the air, I would like to thank all of the teachers at West Ottawa High for working hard to turn unprecedented circumstances into a time of celebration of our achievements.

Jonathan McCabe smiles after picking up his cap and gown in the drive-thru line as West Ottawa teachers and staff cheered students.

Now is a time to look forward, toward college. For me and many other seniors, that is the next step in our education. Now, though, we must wait and twiddle our thumbs to see if colleges even open for our freshman year. Will all classes be online now? Will we be able to move into our dorms? These are questions I’m asking myself because, in a time of uncertainty such as this, we have no clear-cut answer and the waiting is difficult.

Stay strong and adapt

In the meantime, I ask all of my fellow students to stay strong. We may have gotten our plans switched around a little, but that shouldn't change the end goal. Our lives may look different for quite some time, but it's different for a reason. I want to remind you that, by staying home, you are saving lives. You might not see the lives you directly or indirectly impact, but I assure you that by keeping to yourself you are helping us beat this awful illness. 

The more people who stay home and stay safe, the quicker we are going to be able to return to normal life. That means kids like me and many of my friends can then get back to our education and pursue our career goals. It's time to stay mentally tough, learn to adapt to unexpected changes, and keep working toward what we want to do with our lives.

Jonathan McCabe plans to study Biology and Chemistry at Wayne State University. Outside of school he loves biking and hanging out with friends.

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.