COVID-19 may have changed the familiar high school scenes of crowded sporting events and full classrooms to livestreams and conference calls, but Coupeville High School seniors didn’t let that hold them back.
Despite hardships posed by the pandemic, the class of 2021 found ways to excel in academics and extracurriculars while maintaining social connections.
Coupeville seniors turned their tassels at their June 11 commencement ceremony. Leading the pack academically were the top five graduates, Owen Barenburg, salutatorian Catherine Lhamon, and co-valedictorians Mollie Bailey, Marissa Malinowski and Drake Borden.
Owen Barenburg said the thing he will remember most from his pre-pandemic high school days is socializing at school and meeting new people.
Missing out on time with friends during COVID-19 was especially difficult for the graduate. Doing school work in an isolated environment made it hard to stay motivated.
But that didn’t stop Barenburg from being a high academic achiever. While working in the theater tech booth and playing for three years on the soccer team, which he captained his senior year, he also participated in Coupeville High School’s honor society.
He plans to continue his academic pursuits through the honors program of Western Washington University this fall.
“Do well in school early, and don’t let yourself skip assignments,” he encouraged underclassmen. “It’s easy to fall into being constantly behind.”
Runner Catherine Lhamon identified her greatest accomplishment in high school as making it to state in cross country. The athlete also ran track and participated in FFA and ASB, where she was a student representative.
The pandemic posed some challenges for the graduate, who looked back fondly on the days when crowds gathered to watch football games and the snack shack was open.
“I remember thinking it would all be over soon,” she said, recalling her reaction when students were first sent home in March. “The most challenging thing was not really being able to ask questions or participate in classes.”
Lhamon will be attending Eckerd College in the fall, where she plans to study marine sciences.
She said she would advise underclassmen to “have fun and not worry about what other people think.”
Mollie Bailey kept busy with an array of extracurricular activities during her high school career. She played both soccer and softball for four years, earning the position of captain in each sport.
She also played in Coupeville’s pep, concert and marching bands and spent three years as a member of the CHS executive board, where she enjoyed making people laugh and “making an absolute fool of myself.”
For Bailey, high school was a period of self discovery, of “finding out who I am and who I want to be,” she said.
She encouraged underclassmen not to let social pressure dictate who they should be or how they should spend their time.
“Don’t put all of your confidence and self esteem into the people around you,” she advised. “You and you alone give yourself validation and worth.”
Bailey is bound for the University of Washington, where she was directly admitted to the College of Engineering.
For Los Angeles transplant Marissa Malinowski, the friendships she made at Coupeville High School were a boon to her as she weathered a pandemic in a new city.
“I will never forget that my senior year was pretty much taken away by the pandemic,” she said. “There were so many things I wanted to do but had to miss out on, like a prom, meeting more of my classmates, even just having lunch in the cafeteria.”
Despite the social challenges posed by COVID-19, Malinowski still found a home in Coupeville. She said she was befriended by students and staff alike during her time here.
“I think about how everyone was like a family,” she said. “So many people helped me get used to the school, find my way, and mostly they saw me for who I am, not just my challenges. That’s an amazing thing.”
Malinowski participated in ballet, jazz and hip-hop dance at her previous high school. She plans to complete Coupeville’s transition program, then apply for colleges where she can pursue her passion for graphic and fine arts.
Drake Borden’s greatest accomplishment during high school is not what people might expect.
His high school career was littered with accolades and titles. He played four years of varsity tennis, with three of those years spent as captain. He also captained the Science Olympiad team with multiple top finishes and earned the prestigious title of valedictorian.
He was the student representative to the Coupeville School Board, ASB Executive Board treasurer, co-president of his local NHS chapter and treasurer of the local Leo’s club. He competed in USCF chess and on Bellingham’s Junior Elite Tennis Team.
Despite it all, Borden identified his singular greatest achievement in high school as staying true to himself.
“Even if people give you a hard time for being different, simply smile and laugh, because in the end you will be much happier having stayed true to yourself instead of becoming something that other people expect you to be,” he said.
Borden plans to study engineering at Colorado School of Mines.