INDIAN TRAIL, NC (WBTV) - Kennedy Rowland had big plans for her senior year at Sun Valley High School.
However, COVID-19 struck and changed all of them.
“I was excited about prom,” Townsend said. “I bought my prom dress.”
The Union County Public School (UCPS) student was also ready to participate in a traditional high school graduation ceremony.
UCPS has not decided how it will honor its 2020 graduates but it probably won’t be a normal celebration where students walk across the stage to receive their high school diploma.
“I’m really upset about that,” Rowland said. “That was probably the worse part of it - 'cause I was looking forward to that - having all my family.”
Rowland said the letdown she is experiencing in her senior year is upsetting but she accepts it.
She believes her background and her work experience has taught her how to manage pressure and cope with disappointment. She is a volunteer firefighter with the Stallings Fire Department and she works about 30 hours a week.
“I’ve really been put in harder situations,” Rowland said. “Where situations where you have to think. Situations where you have to be mentally prepared for, emotionally prepared for - that a lot of people wouldn’t be doing at my age.”
Her love for becoming a firefighter started with her father.
He passed away when she was in the 9th grade.
He was a Lieutenant with the Fire Department.
As a young child, Rowland would ask to go to the fire station with her father all the time.
That experience led to a love of the profession.
At Sun Valley High School, Rowland enrolled in the fire academy and now she is a leader in that program.
She has earned all 22 fire service certifications the program offered and is now one class away from being a full-time firefighter.
The high school senior said schools getting shut down because of the virus and the social distancing has made her discover things about herself.
While school was closed, she volunteered at the fire station and took EMT classes.
“I can learn a lot more than I thought I could,” she said. “I can do a lot more than I thought I could in a day. I can go from work to studying for a test to coming here working the night and getting up and going back to work.”
COVID-19 is making communities appreciate first-responders more.
Rowland has seen it firsthand at the Stallings Fire Department.
“We have people who bring stuff here almost every day,” Rowland said. “They bring cookies. They might bring lunch or dinner. That is really cool and that makes me want to do this job even more - to be around those people...Being around a community like that - it’s really cool.”
Rowland said that being around her firefighter family helps her get through the pandemic and deal with having a non-traditional high school senior year. She says they make a difference.
“They really kept my mind off things when I get stressed out,” Rowland said. “These are the people to be around.”
In the fall, Rowland will go to college and then pursue a Masters’s while trying to fulfill a dream.
“I would love to be the Chief here,” she said. “I think that would be the coolest thing if I can be the first female chief - that would be awesome.”
As Rowland prepares for her next chapter in life - she said that during her senior year she has learned never to take things for granted. She is grateful her mother has stood by her side and she has a support group that surrounds her daily.
“I have big shoes to fill, and people watching me at all times, people guiding me at all times," Rowland said.