Franklin Community High School seniors Madison Prine, left, and Pawanjeet Deol stand inside the high school commons area on May 16. The two have been chosen to deliver the students addresses at Franklin’s graduation Saturday morning. RYAN TRARES | DAILY JOURNAL

Freshman year of high school is a tumultuous time of learning, discovery and change.

Incoming students master new classes, new routines and new social groups, setting the tone hopefully for their next four years of school.

Franklin Community High School’s Class of 2024, and graduating seniors all over the country, didn’t have that. The COVID-19 pandemic scrambled the typical freshmen experience in waves of hybrid schedules, limited extracurriculars and delays in high school traditions.

Seniors Pawanjeet Deol and Madison Prine remember the year vividly.

“Freshman year was really rough,” Prine said.

But the challenges they faced that freshmen year have shaped Deol and Prine into the students — and people — they are today.

“We didn’t really learn anything; we were just trying to pass the class. So I feel like that year, I had to really learn to teach myself, to not rely on just my teachers by my own skills to learn on my own,” Deol said.

Franklin Community High School senior Pawanjeet Deol stands inside the high school commons area on May 16. RYAN TRARES | DAILY JOURNAL

The two FCHS seniors will lead the Class of 2024 into the next phase of their lives, as they were chosen to deliver the graduation speeches during Saturday’s ceremony. Prine and Deol will focus on the paths that brought them to this point. But their addresses will share one vital common thread — appreciating their time together while building excitement for what’s next.

“I want to make this transition a little bit easier. I know it’s really hard for me now, leaving 13 years behind. That sounds insane to me,” Deol said.

Franklin does not recognize valedictorians or salutatorians during their annual graduation celebration; rather, they offer all students an opportunity to apply to be a speaker at the event.

For Prine, it was a chance to look to the past while preparing for the future.

“I wanted to talk about moving forward and reaching our next goals in life,” she said.

Deol focused on a message reflecting on the pandemic and how it changed their lives then and now.

“It’s about change and how it’s an ever-constant part of life,” she said.

Throughout her high school career, Deol tried to experience a broad array of classes and experiences. She was part of student council, National Honor Society, Interact Club, Harvard Model Congress and social studies academic team. Each offered her a chance to meet new people and learn new skills.

“We all try our best and want to change something. But I’m proud of myself for trying to stay a good person, through elementary school, intermediate school and even now — not being quick to get angry and not doing things in the heat of the moment, thinking through them,” Deol said. “I’m proud of being a kind person who thinks for themselves.”

In the classroom, she loved economics and finance — fields she plans to major in when she enrolls as a student at Indiana University Indianapolis and the Kelley School of Business.

But arguably one of her favorite courses was far off that track: Introduction to Manufacturing.

“When I told my counselor I wanted to take it, she was taken aback, saying all of my other classes were APs or ACTs. But having the ability to go into something I don’t typically do made me so much better at what I was already good at, with the change of mindset,” she said.

Franklin Community High School senior Madison Prine stands inside the high school commons area on May 16. RYAN TRARES | DAILY JOURNAL

Prine was active in National Honor Society, concert choir and Best Buddies and FFA. But one of her most meaningful experiences was taking part in the agriculture program at Franklin. She did not grow up with an agriculture background, but loved animals and wanted to learn more.

“Sophomore year, I stepped out of my comfort zone and took Principles of Agriculture, which I knew nothing about,” Prine said. “I took it because I heard there were bunnies you could pet in the class. I absolutely loved it.”

Prine’s initial foray into farming led to more ag classes. With plans to study agriculture and communications at Purdue University after graduation, she hopes to go into international agriculture development and food security for communities struggling with hunger.

The experience highlights one of her highest-held achievements — the ability to stay balanced throughout high school.

“I’ve tried really hard to get good grades and all of that, but I’ve also tried to be involved with different clubs and stay in touch with my friends,” Prine said. “I’m happy with the way I was able to do that.”

Deol and Prine continuously returned to the impact the pandemic had on their entire high school careers. With hybrid class schedules, they were constantly in flux between in-person instruction and online work. Students had to adjust to a high school course load without the support typical freshmen get, Deol said.

That forced them to mature more quickly.

“Getting those skills have helped in the last three years — advocating for yourself, asking questions, not being afraid to get help when you need it,” Prine said.

But it wasn’t restricted to their coursework. Part of the education of high school is figuring out social situations, making new friends and taking part in school-sponsored activities.

Hybrid schedules split up the school, making that more difficult. And attendance at sporting events was heavily restricted.

“Classes were separated throughout the week. I remember my best friend was on the other days from me, and the social aspect of it was so, so draining,” Deol said.

Still, both Prine and Deol come out of their four years at Franklin feeling confident, prepared and grateful. The end of this chapter of their lives has stirred up much emotion, giving Saturday’s graduation ceremony a bittersweet tinge.

“For me, graduating represents entering a new stage of life, but also leaving things behind. Some of it needs to be left behind, because I need to grow and become a better person,” Deol said. “It’s kind of sad. I love Franklin Community High School, and everybody taught me so much, but now that I’m moving forward, I feel so prepared in taking on the real world.”

But both are grateful to be the ones to cap off such a momentous milestone.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that we’re doing this. It’s definitely an honor and a blessing,” Prine said. “I hope we can represent them well, and present something worth listening to.”

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