Saturday, April 18, 2020 8:55 AM
The COVID-19 emergency may have put an abrupt end to Caroline Kirby’s senior year, but it didn’t stop her from being one of 23 students nationally to win a Kenneth Smith Scholarship through the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program aimed at elevating high schoolers into higher education and the job market.
Like most seniors, Kirby had big plans for her final semester at Madison Consolidated High School. On top of prom, graduation, playing on the tennis team and serving as president of Madison’s JAG program and She Became program, she had just won a regional award for Outstanding Senior at the Region 9 Conference at Hanover College on Jan. 23 and was looking forward to state competitions when the pandemic hit last month.
Now she’ll submit her Outstanding Senior entry for the state competition digitally and finish out the year with online classes and no prom, sports or graduation –— at least as originally planned.
Despite that, Kirby said Wednesday she still feels like she’s gotten the most out of her high school experience and that her classmates have been understanding on why school was shut down.
“I think everyone’s been really understanding, I think it’s matured us too,” she said. “I think it’s been a good eye-opener for understanding how the world works — I feel like I definitely took for granted getting to see all my classmates every day and my teachers. We knew it was coming to an end but we didn’t think it’d be so abrupt.”
No matter the outcome of state finals later this year, Kirby’s accomplishments have already payed off. The Outstanding Senior award from a conference in January placed her in the application pool for the prestigious Kenneth Smith Scholarship, which honors the cream of the crop in the nation’s JAG programs and, in past years, has awarded students from $1,000-$2,000.
The scholarship is another impressive line on her resume. She will head to Hanover College next fall to study biochemistry with hopes to eventually become an optometrist after spending the past year working part-time at the Eye Care Group on Clifty Drive. With health experts hinting at social distancing rules lasting the next few months, Kirby isn’t sure how the pandemic will affect her plan, with her orientation set for the summer and classes in the fall.
After being accepted by 12 colleges, Kirby originally considered attending Indiana University Bloomington or Bellarmine, but chose Hanover to stay closer to home and hopefully make a difference here.
“I grew up here, and there are things I’d still like to do that aren’t that far away. I’d like to come back next school year and help out with Mrs. Matthews in JAG and the She Became program and make sure that’s going well from when we started this year,” Kirby said. “… I’d like to be as much an asset to the community as I can, so Hanover would let me continue to do that, to do as much as I can.”
As for her classmates, Kirby said most were upset with the way the school year ended, but understanding of the reasons. So far they are staying in touch before they go their separate ways in the fall.
“I think everybody’s really doing a good job of making sure that they reach out and that we’re not losing connection quite yet … I think it’s brought us together a little bit and made us value each other a little more. It’s definitely made us value our teachers and how much work they’re putting into our e-learning assignments and we’re wishing we could be in class with them,” Kirby said.
Kirby was most looking forward to senior prom this year, but with the end of the school year approaching, she’s now more worried about the prospect of not getting to walk across the graduation stage.
Madison administrators have expressed hopes for hosting a graduation ceremony later in the summer if social gathering restrictions are relaxed, but it’s hard to imagine what that would look like or when it would take place.
“Graduation’s kind of becoming a big thing for me where I’m realizing the significance of it and the time and tradition of it … with all this, Mr. [Michael] Gasaway and Madison Consolidated staff and faculty, I think they are really trying to keep us in mind and do what’s best for us and make sure we do get what we need,” Kirby said.
While the COVID shutdown has certainly altered her senior year, it’s also “been a breath of fresh air,” she said, allowing her to spend more time with her family at home and not be as split between school, extracurriculars, work and enjoying this time with family. It’s also given her more time to apply for scholarships and reflect on her upbringing at Madison, which she thinks will make her appreciate a small school like Hanover.
“I’d like to give a big thank you to all of Madison staff, faculty, and all the kids we grew up with … I think Hanover’s going to be a good transition for me, from Madison to Hanover I think is going to be the same kind of environment where I look forward to getting to know everybody in that kind of medium-sized setting,” Kirby said. “I had an awesome childhood growing up in the Madison schools and they’ve done a lot for me, and I couldn’t have had a better experience out of it. And I’m only hoping to grow and do a little better and better myself at Hanover, and I think that’s where it’s going to be.”
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