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Trinity Gardner plans to study nursing at State Fair Community College after her graduation from Whittier High School.

While Trinity Gardner walked her own path toward graduation, she was not alone on her journey.

The Whittier High School senior receives her diploma at the same time as her brother, Gage, who is a senior at Smith-Cotton High.

“I am most proud that through all of this happening, I was still able to graduate with my brother,” Trinity said. “He is the only one who understands what I am going through, because he is going through the exact same thing.”

“All of this” is the collection of detours the Class of 2020 has taken due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schools closed, lessons were moved online or shifted to at-home work packets, and students lost connections with teachers and friends.

“At first it was really hard; you had to take in that this is your last year of high school and you can’t really finish it all the way through,” Trinity said. “You didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye to everybody.”

Trinity attended Whittier for a year and a half and said graduating on time would not have happened if she had not moved from Smith-Cotton to Whittier. 

“I had heard that it was a really good school and (Smith-Cotton) high school was really fast paced. Whittier slowed things down and you have more one-on-one time with the teachers,” she said.

Among those teachers are Renee Pinkelton and Kelly Birdsong, who Trinity praised as being among her favorites. Trinity said Pinkelton offers a lot of help for Whittier students and is “one of those teachers who you can go to to talk about serious things like stuff that is going on at home and she won’t judge you.”

She said Birdsong consistently has a good attitude, which makes him fun to be around. He said Trinity is a courteous, respectful student who was a joy to have in class.

“Trinity had little trouble in acclimating into the student culture at Whittier. She is a dedicated student with a great work ethic,” Birdsong said. “Trinity has a great sense of humor which made having her in class that much more enjoyable. Talking with Trinity is always a pleasure as she is much more articulate than many people her age.”

When schools were forced to close, Whittier switched class assignments to work packets that were delivered to students’ homes. Due to stay-at-home orders, the first packets had to be mailed back to the school but afterward students were able to drop off their completed work. For Trinity, the packets were challenging because students had to be self-motivated to complete the work. They also were a reminder of the disconnect from Whittier’s family atmosphere.

“It all just stopped,” she said. “We all usually come together as a family and it was gone in the blink of an eye. Two weeks prior to school completely shutting down, no one was taking (COVID-19) as seriously as we should have been. We didn’t realize it was going to hit us as quickly as it did and as bad as it did.”

Trinity has earned her high school diploma, but the experience feels incomplete.

“I worked so hard to get to the end and to be able to walk across the stage. Now, that might not even happen,” she said.

Whittier’s Commencement traditionally features a “rose ceremony,” where the graduates go into the crowd and present roses to people who were instrumental in helping them achieve their goals. Trinity’s grandparents, Diana and Lance Gardner, would have received roses, as would her mother, Christina Gardner.

“She really pushed me to do my best to get through school. She was really supportive the whole time,” Trinity said. 

Next up for Trinity is State Fair Community College, where she plans to study nursing. She built that opportunity for herself through her work at Whittier.

“Everybody knows everybody there and everybody helps everybody. Everyone is friendly and it is just amazing,” she said. “I loved it so much. That is the only school that I actually looked forward to going to.” 

Birdsong said, “Students like Trinity add a sense of purpose to our mission at Whittier. I wish her all the best now that she has graduated.”

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