Senior essay: Connections, A Deeper Meaning of (fill in the blank) |

Senior essay: Connections, A Deeper Meaning of (fill in the blank)

AJ Adams
Special to the Post Independent
AJ Adams
Courtesy Cath Adams

Dearly beloved class of 2020, we are isolating ourselves here today to grow together through this thing called life. Distancing from each other doesn’t mean forever, because that’s a mighty long time. But I’m here to tell you, there’s something else on our horizon that will unify us like we have never seen before.

Thanks Prince (“Let’s Go Crazy”) for your help with the words.

As a senior at Glenwood Springs High School, I would like to share my perspective of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it reflects upon my personal growth through my senior capstone project, a documentary I created called “Connections, A Deeper Meaning Of Cancer.”

Two-and-a-half years in the making, this documentary which I began at the age of 15, explored my curiosity and relationship with cancer, the human connection, meaning, life lessons, and how it can be a positive change in one’s life. The stepping stones of my documentary are inspiring interviews with amazing people, whom I affectionately named my “Tribe” from all stages of cancer; survivors, caregivers and those where cancer has profoundly affected their lives.

It was a whirlwind of a project that included the ultimate best and most challenging emotions. I wrestled over how to approach telling their stories and honoring a part of their lives they openly shared with me. I was overwhelmed and just wanted to surrender, because finding the meaning of cancer was deeper than I had ever imagined.

With the support of my mentors, Jo Bershenyi, Rodney O’Byrne, my family, and my Tribe, I chose to continue because every person involved in this documentary showed up for me and is an essential part of who I have now become. The connections I made with my Tribe opened my mind to learning how to live life to the fullest in the most challenging and unpredictable times. Their stories have and will be an inspiration to others everywhere.

Since my documentary, two people who were a part of my project and have shown up for me made their heavenly journey, Nancy and Tom. I miss their presence on earth, but I have gained their presence in my life.

Our world has a health diagnosis called COVID-19, and we can choose if this challenge will defeat us or change humanity for the better. We have a choice on how to live through the best or worst of any health condition or life struggles we acquire by being able to connect positively with others and life.

The initial news of a life-changing diagnosis can feel like a freight train coming toward you at full speed, and you aren’t sure how to get off the tracks to safety. As a society, we are currently shutting down to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in silence, isolation and by social distancing from each other.

We are continually looking over our shoulders, wondering if we are the next one to be infected. It is a game of dodging the virus where our best chance to stay healthy is to cover our faces and hands and avoid close contact by distancing ourselves from others.

We are all dealing with this collective diagnosis, and the most challenging part is the unknown. We are stuck waiting, not sure how to show up and frustrated that we are unable to physically embrace each other through this challenge when we feel the load of this virus.

When we look at obstacles of COVID-19 in a different light, it is the change where we will discover the deeper meaning and connection. It will show-up in new signs of life, removing what is unnecessary in our lives, opening the opportunity to dig deep, and plant the seeds of compassion to spread throughout the world.

Cancer changed the life plans of many people in the world. COVID-19 has altered the life plans of the world as a whole. As I saw in growing and connecting with families dealing with a cancer diagnosis, we need to show up for one another and recognize life as a precious gift. Wrap each other in prayer, hold space, be present, listen in silence, and keep waiting patiently through this storm together.

These are big “life lessons” I have learned from my most excellent teachers affected by cancer. They gave me the realization that, how you plan your future is never in your control and that detours are a part of life in knowing your real purpose.

Cancer is a season of waiting from test to test and ever-changing treatment plans, and even life plans, based on the results. Life will throw you a curveball, and we will grieve the loss of what could have been, but what about the gain and fresh perspective of this change? It offers us a clear view of what truly matters and what is essential in your life in ways we have not seen before.

The story continues to change, and I hope the positive messages we have gained now through any life challenge will be how we lead our lives. The day will come where we will embrace again, and this connection will come in the form of a relationship filled with a meaning more powerful than us.

Class of 2020, I share these words with you:

COVID-19 is everyone’s reality on all different levels. Give yourself time to process. The plan and our world as we knew it has changed. Senior year milestones and creating memories we may miss out on (prom, ditch day, our mastered class prank, walking across stage receiving our diplomas and throwing our caps in the air).

These are turbulent times, and life is so unpredictable. But ask yourself what do we do with this? Showing up for each other — an essential life lesson I learned through my Tribe in the making of my documentary. They filled my cup, and I filled theirs, and together we filled the cups of others with positive energy.

Allow yourself to feel your emotions, as they are meaningful to you. We are collectively grieving a loss, and everyone’s grief is valid. Be scared, put a name to your pain; the disappointment is real. Reach from the inside out and know something is waiting on the other side that is bigger than us and will show you purpose.

Right now, we are walking the empty streets in isolation of each other with our Personal Protective Equipment, but the day awaits us when we will take off our masks and unveil the new us. There is a new door to open, and it may look like this — a collective Roaring Fork Valley Community Celebration for all the valley high schools Class of 2020.

That may be a dream, but after all this may be the new norm. Let us stand unified as we are all in this together. Don’t let anything bring us down; let’s go crazy and be the change. There is a purpose in every journey and a new chapter we can now title “Connections, A Deeper Meaning Of Life.”

I was fortunate to have presented my capstone project with an opening show on Nov. 17, 2019, at The Orchard in Carbondale to a crowd of around 150 community members. Please visit my website at to view my 16-minute documentary, “Connections A Deeper Meaning Of Cancer.”

— AJ Adams, Glenwood Springs High School Class of 2020

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