Shawnee’s valedictorian reflects on intense four years and sends love to graduates

Rebecca Leavens has put her time during remote learning to good use.

Rebecca Leavens sends a cheerful ‘goodbye’ to her four years at Shawnee High School as she reflects on lessons learned during the pandemic (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

Four years spent walking and learning in the halls of Shawnee High School come to a close on July 16, as the class of 2020’s valedictorian prepares a speech for graduates she calls an  interesting, lovable bunch.

Rebecca Leavens thinks she may need sweatproof makeup for a ceremony in the summer heat, but she’s excited to see her classmates once more after months of remote learning.

But while effects of the coronavirus pandemic have largely been negative, Leavens said she put the time at home to good use, including late-night studying.

“Having time during corona, I had time to spend with my family and invest in other things I do,” Leavens explained. “I realized it’s great I did all of this academic stuff, but it’s more important I spend time focusing on my relationships with friends and family.”

The senior will attend the University of Pennsylvania to major in mathematical economics and hopes to have a future as an actuary. She completed one economics course at Shawnee and  finished linear math in her junior year.

Aside from the hustle and bustle of academics, Leavens’ favorite time as a Shawnee Renegade was winning the best speaker award in a recent competition with the school’s debate team.

“That was something I had to work really hard to do because I am not natural at debate; I am a nervous introvert,” she admitted. “Debate is something I really struggled with, so being able to work for four years to win best speaker was a big deal for me.”

As the school year comes to an end, high school seniors across the state are eager to see their friends and teachers in person on graduation day, something they haven’t been able to do since schools closed in March. Leavens also looks forward to seeing her former geometry teacher,  Joanne Wagner.

Leavens cited Wagner not just for teaching but for her advice. The student often visited Wagner’s classroom to vent or just talk.

What Leavens won’t miss is the sound of Shawnee’s traditional song, “Raw Hide,” being played at the start of the school day.

“It means you gotta move your butt to class,” as she described it. “You’re two minutes away and are about to be late. But I miss hearing that and knowing it’s the start of a new day and the start of something new, and sprinting from the parking lot to class.”

Leaven’s advice for younger students is to keep a balance in their studies, social time and family time and to not take classes merely to compete for a title.

Leavens has connected with her Penn roommate and found they shared a love of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which Leavens jokingly said she has several pints of in her freezer.

Her flavor?

 

“Chunky Monkey, because it’s my favorite,” she cheerfully shared. “I have ice cream at the end of a bad day, good day and all of my friends know I have a couple of pints in my freezer.”

As for Shawnee’s graduation? “We’ve gone through a lot,” Leavens said, “but at the end of the day, we’re still coming together to celebrate.”

She joked that her valedictory is on its 3,000th edit, but her message includes encouraging graduates to focus on relationships with the people they meet and not the achievements they earn.

“‘Go change the world — or don’t,'” her speech reads. “‘Be extraordinary — or not. I don’t care, just find people that mean something to you and don’t sacrifice it for anything.’”