‘I’m Destined To Get My Diploma’: How One Walnut Creek Campus Senior’s Writing Pushed Them To Graduation
KD Cohen’s dream is to become a professional writer. When an idea or emotion strikes, they grab their journal and begin to jot down sentences through scores of pages.
“I got really into writing when I was nine. My mom and sister are both artists, and though I do like art, I tend to lean more into writing,” Cohen said. “Throughout the years and the more I wrote, I realized I wanted to do this long-term.”
Cohen owns so many notebooks “I nearly have bought out Wal-Mart,” they quip. The pages are filled with short fiction stories and personal experiences. Often, Cohen’s writings revolve around perseverance—a characteristic known far too well.
“No matter if I have a lot to write about or nothing at all, journaling has helped me get through some tough times,” Cohen said.
Fighting For Their Education
Cohen and 72 fellow classmates will graduate from Walnut Creek Campus on Tuesday, July 21. The accomplishment comes as an opportunity Cohen never thought was a possibility.
“I’m a two-time dropout,” said Cohen, a Burlington native whose reasons for leaving stem from mental health and bullying at the other schools they attended. “I later got a job at a daycare, and worked there for six hours before I quit. It wasn’t for me.”
Unsure of where to go or what to do, Cohen had a raw talk with their mother, who offered guidance about giving school one more shot. The family moved to Des Moines in order to find somewhere Cohen could enroll.
“I was so credit deficient that most schools said it would be doing me an injustice because of how things would be set up,” Cohen said. “All these doors started closing, then outta nowhere Walnut Creek appeared.”
At first, Cohen had doubts about West Des Moines Community Schools’ alternative high school because of the “bad kid school” stigma places like Walnut Creek tend to face. But having been at Walnut Creek for three years, Cohen admits how they couldn’t have been more wrong. A main reason why is because of the school’s teachers and staff—a dedicated team of educators who “care so intensely it’s not even a job for them.”
“Their students are their lives,” Cohen explained. “Teachers will go and hand out stuff from food banks and keep in touch just to see how their days are going. The staff care so much it’s difficult to put into words how much they love their students.”
And the students, Cohen said, are “unique in a way that you’re part of their family whether you like it or not.”
“It was definitely different in a cultural sense,” they explained. “The kids, a lot of them come from backgrounds that are just not great. We’d talk about this stuff in class; it wasn’t a taboo don’t-talk-about-it, but rather this is what it is.
“Despite it all, they were still there and still fighting for an education.”
But suddenly, COVID-19.
‘I’m Destined To Get My Diploma’
Cohen was two weeks shy from completing the final requirements needed for graduation when the coronavirus pandemic closed the doors of WDMCS schools for the rest of the 2019-20 school year.
“Just my luck. I’m almost done,” Cohen remembers saying then.
Now dependent on online learning and over-the-phone support, Cohen’s uncertainty returned. Anxiousness grew with how this crisis would affect their credits moving forward or what other criteria would need met in order to reach the finish line
Then, a familiar and favorite voice provided a surge in reassurance: Walnut Creek School Counselor Leah Lingren.
“Leah made it clear that we will get me graduated this year.” Cohen said of Lingren. “She had no doubt about it. The staff made it very clear I was graduating. There were some times when I looked at this giant mile road ahead of me that I had my doubts, but every staff member saw my potential.
“I’m destined to get my diploma.”
An Improved Reality, But The Same Dream
Still amid COVID-19 and following appropriate health and safety guidelines, Tuesday’s commencement will be nothing short of memorable in both the historical and personal aspect. Groups consisting of about five graduating seniors and families will be recognized at specific times between 5-8 p.m. at the Staplin Performing Arts Center.
Like previous commencement ceremonies, Tuesday’s event will celebrate the overall academic achievements of the 73 students who make up Walnut Creek’s Class of 2020. A final hoorah to cap off these graduates’ educational journeys as part of WDMCS, and a kick-off to the next chapters of their lives.
What’s to come for Cohen? Their dream.
“I was recently accepted into DMACC (Des Moines Area Community College),” they said, adding that the plan after DMACC is to attend the University of Iowa. “I really want to go there (Iowa) because they have such an amazing writing program, and I’m hoping in a few years to write professionally. I want to work on a television production team, working behind the scenes as a storymaker.”
A once-shattered aspiration is now repaired, with all of the right pieces set to become the reality and many blank pages left to create new stories.
“For so many years, I didn’t think I was going to graduate. Part of me still doesn’t believe it,” Cohen said. “I didn’t think I would have this opportunity. It’s a goal I’ve worked so hard for.
“Without Walnut Creek, none of this would be possible.”
Hello, Walnut Creek Campus families! I hope that all of you are staying healthy and safe during these unprecedented times. As you know, we had planned to try to have an in-person ceremony on Aug. 11. After careful consideration of the current situation and safety guidelines, we have decided to change our graduation ceremony plan.