Kaylee McCullough said the COVID-19 pandemic has given her a new focus. She explained it has helped her to realize what is really important, including spending quality time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies in greater depth, and “really focusing on living my life and doing the things that I love the most.” (Parkland Secondary School/Submitted)

Parkland Secondary valedictorian sees positive in pandemic

Kaylee McCullough says COVID-19 pandemic has focused her choices

Kaylee McCullough spent two years planning and working toward what would have been a 10-day trip to Europe. It would have been one of the highlights of her final year at North Saanich’s Parkland Secondary school. Then COVID-19 hit.

“I was really ready to go, but three days before we were supposed to leave [in early March], it was completely cancelled,” said McCullough, who along with John Mark Soriao, is graduating as class valedictorian.

This disappointment was among the many McCullough and her fellow graduates endured over the next three months or so as COVID-19 has, and continues to, up-end every aspect of society, including the last three months of McCullough’s graduation year, a period that otherwise would have been the best part of high school. But far from being bitter or cynical, McCullough has re-framed the experience in hopes that her generation will emerge out this pandemic stronger.“The virus took away so much of the things that we were looking forward to,” she said. “So rather than focusing on the negatives, I hope that we can all focus on what the positives can be and that we can take more action in our lives.”

RELATED: Parkland grads mark end to high school in virtual ceremony

RELATED: Saanich School District cancels all international field trips to Europe and Japan

McCullough said she is still trying to figure what she is going to do after graduation because the COVID-19 pandemic has changed her perspective about her goals.

Earlier plans to attend university in the fall have given way to plans to take the year off during which she plans to work, but also do things that she has been putting off.

At the same time, materialistic things have lost their lustre, she said.

This focus on intangible experiences has manifested itself in a new spontaneity.

“Any time some one asks me to go out and do something, I don’t think about it now,” she said. “I just go and do it rather than being unmotivated or sitting at home or watching TV. I rarely ever watch TV now. It’s all about going out and experiencing things rather than just entertaining myself.”

McCullough said the pandemic has helped her to realize what is really important, including spending quality time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies in greater depth, and “really focusing on living my life and doing the things that I love the most.”

They include dancing, photography and painting. “I have always loved dancing and choreography,” said McCullough, who has been dancing and working at Allegro Performing Arts Centre. These pursuits might eventually lead to a career as a freelance photographer or in the entertainment industry.

“In the next couple of years, if cruise ships [are sailing again], I would love to be a performer, a dancer on cruise ships, and then later go on to university, somewhere like Ryerson in Toronto to study choreography,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptions on the school system has not been without its professional and pedagogical drawbacks.

“I was pretty concerned because doing classes online is nothing like doing them in person,” she said. “You don’t get that personal connection. It kind of puts it all in our hands. It is all up to us about how much we do. Luckily, I had motivation and I’m getting it done, but it is not the same extent of education that we would have gotten in school.”

“Lots of my friends are definitely more concerned that they won’t be at the same level as everyone else going into university,” she added later.

McCullough also anticipates the economic effects of the pandemic will disproportionately disadvantage young people like herself, a point borne out by available statistics.

“I think it would be difficult to find a job, especially a high paying job,” she said.

This said, McCullough chooses to remain optimistic. “Rather than being negative or bitter about the situation, I think a lot of people have chosen to be resilient in a hard situation.”

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