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“Weird is a Pretty Good Description”: Graduating from High School During COVID-19

Graduating in the Era of COVID

Gillette Patients and High School Seniors, Logan Swedberg and Katie Allee

There are a lot of people who are missing everyday aspects of a normal life right now.

There are also countless young adults that are missing out on defining milestones like high school graduation, that before COVID-19, many of us took for granted.

We recently talked to two high school seniors who have received care at Gillette throughout their lives about how they’re weathering COVID and everything that comes along with it. What struck me about our conversation wasn’t necessarily the frustration that we all must feel, even though that was present.

It was the level of understanding and the perspective that you wouldn’t always hear or expect from an 18-year-old.

Like many of the patients treated at Gillette, Katie Allee and Logan Swedberg know what it’s like to miss out on certain things. They know what it’s like to endure individual hardship, be inconvenienced by things completely out of their control and maintain perspective. In many ways, they are probably two of the people everyone needs to hear from most right now.

Below is my interview with Katie, Logan and their parents. Katie is a senior at Wayzata High School and Logan is a senior at Lakeville North.

First off, how are you doing?

Logan: I think we’re doing OK. But it’s weird and little bit different.

Katie: Yes, weird is a pretty good description. We’ve definitely taken a lot of walks around our neighborhood lately. But overall we’re doing well.

How has COVID changed school for you?

Katie: I’ve been taking Postsecondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) classes through Northwestern this entire year. So for us, it’s kind of odd because our routine really hasn’t changed. Of course, when this year started it was definitely an adjustment and something I had to get used to. The online courses were nice in the sense that I was able to watch the videos, do the assignments and work at my own pace. But there wasn’t any face-to-face learning and that made being able to get out, see my friends and do things when I was done all the more important. So the past few months have been quite a change.

Logan: It’s been totally different. I’m still not really used to the whole online thing. When this first started and they took us out of school I thought, OK, it’d be nice to have a bit of a break. But I never thought it’d go on this long, or that there’d be a time I’d rather be in school than at home.

How is your school handling commencement now, and was there a particular aspect of graduation you were looking forward to?

Logan: We usually have graduation at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. Our entire class was supposed to bus up there together and then there would’ve been a lock-in at the school that night. But for me, I was really looking forward to just sitting in that auditorium and seeing all of my friends and classmates. That would’ve been the last time we all were together. You go through a lot together and it would’ve been nice to have that moment, where it’s like, “We did it. We made it.” Commencement is supposed to be online now, but there are more than 450 people in my graduating class, so I don’t know what that will look like.

Katie: We also had an overnight senior party at the school planned that has been canceled. Our graduation has been rescheduled for August 1, at Mariucci Arena. This year has been different for me taking the online PSEO classes, but obviously there were other parts of graduation I was really looking forward to. Our school has this tradition where we visit our former elementary school in our caps and gowns and see our previous teachers. Missing out on the moment that symbolizes how far we’ve come over the last four years, as well as the course of our lives is pretty disappointing. There’s also a bridge near our high school and on the last day of school all of the seniors walk across it together. There were some things I was going to participate in and some things I might not have, but to not even have the option to choose and realize that we’re never going to be back together again at that place is tough. I was also looking forward to my graduation party. Maybe we can have one later this summer. I finished my classwork last week, and to have things just be over is truly strange.

This is for your parents too, but you’ve been treated at Gillette throughout the course of your life and along with that have been times you’ve missed certain events or had to do some things differently than your peers. Do you feel like that has given you greater perspective when it comes to missing graduation, or do you feel like it’s just one more thing that’s being taken away? I could see it being a bit of both.

Katie: That’s a good question and yeah, it’s definitely both. There’s a part of me that thinks this isn’t a huge setback. But there’s also a part that thinks, I’ve worked so hard and have faced so many challenges over the past four years in my day-to-day life, and this is what I get? It’s not ideal and I also wonder about what’s going to happen next fall. I was going to go to Montana State University and was really excited to go out there and get started.

Edwina Allee (Katie’s mother): I think she was also looking forward to getting away from her parents. Social distancing is one thing, family distancing is important too (laughs). The hardest part about this situation has been the personal choices that have been taken away. That’s something we’ve had some experience with over the years, but you make adjustments. Mainly, because you have to, but I think we sometimes underestimate our ability to do so when we need to.

Logan: Yeah, I definitely feel like this is just one more thing I have to fight through. I’ve had some rough times in my life. I don’t think rough times are ever something you get used to, but you get better at getting through them and it probably makes you stronger mentally. I spent a lot of time at Gillette, and I mean a lot. Not all of it was fun, but going there changed my life. Missing graduation sucks because it was something I worked really hard for, but this is just like a lot of challenges I’ve had to deal with. Like I’ve always said, we’ve just got to hang in there and never give up. We’ll get through this together.

Tara Swedberg (Logan’s mother): Logan has had more than 30 surgeries at Gillette in his life. Over the course of two years between his second and third grade, we collectively spent six months inpatient there. So, yes, he definitely has missed some things and that makes missing graduation especially hard. I think Edwina’s point about making adjustments is very accurate. When I think back on when Logan spent his most intensive time at Gillette, I kind of can’t believe we got through it. But we did. I think we’ll all probably look back on this period of time in a similar way.

Making definitive plans is hard to do right now, but are there things in the near future that you are looking forward to?

Logan: We’ve been trying to get outside as much as we can now that the weather is nicer. My dad and I have a fishing trip planned for next month on Lake Michigan in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. With all of this going on, it’s nice to have a plan for something fun.

Katie: Honestly, I’ve done like 10 puzzles during this time. It might sound silly, but I’d just like to go somewhere. Not even on vacation (like my mom is currently whispering). Just getting back in a routine would be nice, even if it was just going to the store. That almost seems exciting. I’m very much looking forward to normal human activity.

Author’s note: It should be stated that both Katie and Logan’s parents expressed that they were immensely proud of their kids and can’t wait to see what they'll do next. They also conceded that you can love each other and still want to spend time apart.