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Learning To Value Community Over Self: Local High School Students Reflect on Coronavirus Lessons

Two senior pictures of student Rachel Williams
Rachel Williams
"This is an event that we can look back on and say, 'I thought I had everything, but this took it away. And this is what I can get from it.'"

High school seniors have missed out on a lot since the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools. Today, we meet Rachel Williams, a senior at Winter Haven High School, who talked about the new perspective she gained.

“I'm one of those kids who's involved in almost every single extracurricular there is on campus. I'm the current senior council vice president. I'm the National Honor Society president. I'm the Technology Student Association secretary.

“As awful as this is, I was kind of grateful to get a break for a little bit (when school closed). You know, I have a 4.0 unweighted GPA, straight A's... academics, that was always my everything. So now it's given me time to think, who do I want to be outside the classroom? Who can I be to my family? I've barely gotten time to spend with them, and I'm one of six. It was surprising, you know, to think back that while I was in school, I barely spent time with my family. But now, I spend more time with them. And it's given me time to reflect. If I don't have school, then what else do I have?

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“As somebody who's always been community-minded, I knew that I still wanted to be involved in my community no matter what way I can. Even staying home, that's an easy way to serve your community. I just wanted to still be involved with everybody, even if I can't see them.

“I'm working on my sewing machine right now. So you know, I can help sew face masks for everyone. We have this stole at Winter Haven High School, which is like a big robe, and everybody puts a class patch on it. I was selected to do our class patch at home and then bring it to the school. So I've done that. And I've done like mental health checks through social media on people just to make sure they're doing okay.

“I think that valuing your community at a time like this, instead of really focusing on what was personal, is really important. A lot of things that I focused on that were personal as a graduating senior, I can't really have those things right now, so I might as well try to make the best of the situation. I feel that after you've suffered from something big like this, I feel like you can become a better person after that.

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“I just hope that a lot of people become stronger after this. I hope that people learn to value what we've taken for granted for so long. I felt entitled to everything. I felt entitled to have a prom, I felt entitled to see my friends every day. I felt like the world owed me all of these things that it really didn't.

“I kind of learned that after school got canceled, I was like, 'well, I'm not entitled to anything.' So this is an event that we can look back on and say, 'I thought I had everything you know, but this took it away. And this is what I can get from it.'

“Before the pandemic, my mind wasn't set on my cashier at my Publix. My mind wasn't set on the truck drivers that are driving goods back and forth. Or even the people that we live with at home.

“A lot of people are still going out which you know, that's their choice, but I have three high-risk people at my house, with asthma, so I can't really take the risk of going out and you know, doing whatever I feel, or jeopardizing everybody else's livelihood just because I know I'll be okay. I don't know if everybody else is going to be okay. So I think this means valuing others, you know, not really thinking about myself that much.”

This story is produced in partnership with America Amplified, an initiative using community engagement to inform local journalism. It is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.