I’ve learned many things this year. I learned how to apply for colleges and fill out my FAFSA. I learned different bones in the body and how economics works.

I truly thought I knew how my senior year was going to go. I thought I learned everything I needed to know, and I was prepared for anything. That’s when everything turned upside down.

My name is Jesse Hendricks, and I was a senior at Fort Payne High School. I am a member of the National Honor Society as well as the AV communications class and the drama class. I am planning on attending the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The fall semester of my senior year was an enjoyment for me as I was checking off my list of “last things.” Being a senior, I was very excited to graduate high school and start college. This was something I looked forward to daily. If only I’d known then what I know now, I would have viewed so many things differently.

Never in a million years did I expect school to close. When we got the call I can honestly say I was completely shocked. For a long time I was in denial about the situation. I thought it would only be for a few days. I thought that I would return to school and everything would be normal. But as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, it suddenly became real.

There were so many opportunities that I wish I could’ve had. Senior Night and the Slow Motion Pep Rally was something I looked forward to all year. I even looked forward to walking through the halls on the last day of school. I was excited to gain that closure and turn the final page of high school. Accepting that as something I wouldn’t be able to do was a challenge for me. The biggest opportunity that I wish I could’ve had was saying goodbye to my classmates and teachers. They watched me discover who I was as a person and grow. I wish I could’ve expressed my gratitude to them for pushing forward and making me the person I am today.

The biggest thing I miss about school was the environment as a whole. I will definitely miss all of my teachers. Fort Payne High School has such incredible faculty and staff. I never felt alone at school because I always knew there was a teacher or staff member who was there for me. I will miss my friends and peers. The students at Fort Payne are so talented and unique. Everyday the hallways were packed with life. Walking through them was something I and many others enjoyed. I will especially miss my film and drama class. The people in those classes are very important to me. They saw me at my lowest and highest points. They saw me vulnerable. They taught me more things about myself than I even knew. They are my family through and through.

I know that I’m not the only one hurting after the events of COVID-19. Everyone around the world is fighting their own battle because of this disease. My advice to them is this. Always look for the positives. That is the only way I’ve managed to cope. For a while, everything was intimidating. It was difficult for me to find any positive feelings. Instead I was filled with anger, sadness, and a lot of confusion. It was at this point where I felt I was drowning in my own negative feelings.

However, I realized I was only looking at one place instead of the bigger picture. I realized that some positives could come out of this. Maybe everyone will value the importance of hygiene more. Maybe there will be a realization of the value of essential workers. Maybe everyone will understand just how powerful healthcare workers are after aiding everyone who was sick. Maybe the world will realize how adaptive teachers are after moving their entire classrooms online. Maybe communities will value their reporters and communication specialists more after they constantly updated everyone on safety procedures and guidelines. Maybe farmers, truck drivers, fast food workers, entertainers, emergency services, gas station attendees, manufactures, waste removal services, energy employees, transit workers, public works employees and so many others will be recognized and commended for their work. Maybe everyone will be a little bit nicer to each other. I realized that there is so much good that will come out of this. We only have to look forward.

I’ve learned many things this year but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that people will always persevere. We will get through this together.

To my fellow seniors, I wish you much happiness. I know that we are going to accomplish so many great things, and I am beyond honored to share my senior year with you. Let’s go and change the world.

Editor’s Note: The above story is the final installment in a series that featured seniors from around DeKalb County discussing their experiences during their not-so-typical senior years.

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