From COVID to College: Words of Wisdom from a High School Graduate

by Donna McBride, Council Member, City of Casa Grande

Everything changed in March. It swept through our lives like a tornado in the middle of the night without warning. Some recovered. Some didn’t. But one thing for sure — it affected everyone in some way. Everyone. COVID-19 brought the country and our community to its knees.

Especially affected were our high school seniors. For nearly 12 years, they pushed themselves and struggled while making memories and the grades. They earned the right to graduate, to walk across the stage. But then COVID took it away. Just like that. Gone.

Someone once said, “it’s not how you weather the storm, it’s how you dance in the rain.” For Casa Grande graduate Alexander McQueen, he lifted himself up and danced off the stage into his future without looking back.

In fact, this 17-year-old graduated a year early. Officially a member of the Vista Grande High School class of 2021, Alexander finished his coursework in May with a GPA of 4.727, ranking first in his class. You would think he had no time for anything else.

Yet this guy danced his way through Casa Grande with the Vista Grande Elite Dance company while hitting the stage numerous times to entertain our community with the BlackBox Foundation, the Unmanageable Teen Improv group and Vista Grande’s Thespian group.

Former Blackbox Director Stacey Seaman speaks highly of him: “Alexander is one of those kids you teach and never forget. He loved to learn and was a sponge — always soaking up new information. Being involved in improv and theater helped him form his identity and how he relates to the world.”

Alexander also spent some time volunteering for the community as part of the Casa Grande Youth Commission. City Councilman and Adviser Matt Herman shared, “Alexander was always positive and ready to take on a challenge. I enjoyed getting to know him and hear his ideas.”

Alexander was homeschooled until high school. He felt it gave him more control over his own time and what he chose to study. One of his favorite memories of homeschooling was when his family (parents John and Tiffany with sister Chloe) traveled to Milwaukee and the Field Museum in Chicago. It sparked his interest in archeology and anthropology.

I was interested in what Alexander felt was the biggest challenge in making the transition from homeschooling to public school. He was clear: It was the extreme monotony of the day, admitting this has been a challenge all his life. He isn’t a fan of highly structured, repetitive days, saying that waking up at 7 a.m. is not ideal for young minds. That said, he thought perhaps its purpose is to prepare students for the workplace. Perhaps so.

Alexander never sought out to just “make the grade.” If there was a subject that interested him, he often studied it more on his own.

So where will you find this bright young man in the fall? His top choices are Columbia, NYU and UCLA. For the time being, however, Alexander is making plans to attend Central Arizona College to hone his musical, theatrical and creative abilities, and leaning toward those areas as a future career path.

Alexander offers some solid advice for students starting the school year, whatever that might look like. “Be careful, be prepared to do research in things that interest you. Be kind to yourself and others. Trust yourself and act with the belief that all of us contribute to the world.”

Finally, Alexander shared simple goals: “Be focused and diligent on yourself, but don’t be so concerned with grades, with vague notions of success, or any such things. Instead, live in accordance to one’s beliefs, be trusting, kind and value one’s own life.”