Resiliency might just be stitched into the fabric of this year’s graduating Champlain Valley Union High School class. And one could make the case that it’s in the makeup of senior Jackson Konowitz.
As the class ends its time remotely, in a year unlike any before, Konowitz reflected on the indelible mark his experiences as a Redhawk have left on him.
Caring and coming together in hard times
Just on the cusp of shedding its freshman status, the CVU class of 2020 lost one of its own. Connor Lewis, a friend of Konowitz, died suddenly and unexpectedly of a brain tumor on June 2, 2017.
“It was literally three days after they caught it that he ended up passing away,” Konowitz recalled. “That’s kind of how high school started.”
Konowitz remembers the challenge of the days before and after Lewis’ death. Lewis was one of his childhood friends, and the two had become reacquainted in high school after being split into different teaching teams during middle school.
Principal Adam Bunting took Konowitz and a few of his peers to visit Lewis in the hospital.
“The whole experience was very, understandably, dreary walking through the hospital and then finally getting to see him,” Konowitz said. Lewis was asleep during their visit. “He looked very small, and very weak and it was definitely very tough to do that.”
Back at school, Konowitz spoke in front of his peers, sharing the experience of visiting Lewis and asking them to be strong for Lewis and his family.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cried in front of that many people before in my life,” he said.
The next day Lewis died. But Konowitz said that some good came from the bad.
The CVU class of 2020 established a Connor Lewis Memorial Scholarship that was awarded to two students for the very first time last week.
Lewis wasn’t the only friend and classmate Konowitz lost.
In October 2018, Paul Hoeppner took his own life.
“That was extremely unexpected. I don’t think anyone in the entire world could have seen that coming, Konowitz said.”
His family is close with Hoeppner’s.
“Their family is literally my favorite family in the world. If I had to be on a tropical deserted island for the rest of my life with any people, they would be my first option,” Konowitz said. He believes anyone who knows them would say the same. “They’re just phenomenal human beings.”
Paul Hoeppner was the happiest and nicest kid, he said. The day he died was the day that “everything stopped” at CVU.
Change followed mourning.
Konowitz said having friends and classmates die made him more empathetic. He began to think more about f how he could help those around him during hard times.
“I would say that the Jackson from freshman year when I walked into the building is astronomically different from the Jackson that you would meet now,” Konowitz said. “I don’t think that I was taking advantage of who I could be as much as possible, what I could do with myself, how I could give myself to the people around me. Paul was really the factor that changed me as a person overall.”
Wrapping up the high school experience
It’s hard to believe high school is over, Konowitz said.
“It feels weird, it doesn’t feel like I thought it would. Normally you think you’re just going to leave high school and never have to go back, but that happened like three months ago,” he said. Unlike classes before his, Konowitz and his peers couldn’t spend the end of their senior year together. Out went prom and a traditional graduation, in came remote learning and a drive-in graduation.
And for Konowitz – who had a series of injuries that kept him on and off the baseball field and volleyball court throughout high school – gone was a final season to play as a Redhawk.
Instead of mourning, Konowitz played at home, got in shape and made the most out of a hard time.
“That definitely affected me pretty heavily,” he said of the odd end to his senior year. “But it also changed me, character-wise. It’s definitely made me a more motivated person.”
Those efforts will serve him well next year when he attends Seton Hall University, he said.
As Konowitz heads out into the world, he’ll have plenty of good memories from CVU to take with him. Among the highlights are state championship wins on both the volleyball and baseball teams. But so are the everyday moments like studying and working with math teacher Allison Sherwin, whom Konowitz said was attentive, present and made her students feel comfortable.
Most of all, he will remember his classmates and the shared experiences they hold near.
“I think as a class we are the most resilient people, collectively, that I’ve ever met before,” Konowitz said. “Starting out freshman year with one of our classmates passing away to going through all this stuff this year, it amazes me every day the work that we put into our community and how tight we are.”