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Dear Class Of 2020: Pandemic Solidifies Cashier's Dream To Be A Nurse

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been hearing high school graduation messages this week from frontline workers. Today, a graduating senior who works as a grocery store cashier in Atlanta.

HAYLEY WATTS: Dear Class of 2020, my name is Hayley Watts (ph). I have been a Kroger cashier since 2019. It didn't take long for me to form what I consider to be lifelong friendships. But when the pandemic started, everything changed. We couldn't get together and just enjoy the outside air after shifts. I couldn't hug the customers that I had a bond with because it wasn't safe. Even helping to bag groceries when the store got busy became a challenge because I didn't want to get in anyone's space and make them uncomfortable.

My most memorable moments came in the earliest days of the pandemic. I'd survived Black Friday and Christmas. But nothing could have prepared me for the sea of people that filled our store in the coming weeks. This is not the world we graduates envisioned. It feels like our accomplishments are somewhat incomplete because we didn't get our time to dress up or down, wear our caps and gowns and walk across the stage with our friends. We didn't get to do senior activities, class pictures or college athlete signing day. My sisters and I spent a good handful of nights crying.

But what I want to say is whether we had a graduation ceremony or not, you totally earned your diploma. And you definitely worked hard for your degree. Nobody can take that from you. As for my future, I will be attending Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., majoring in nursing. During this pandemic, I haven't been afraid of being surrounded by so many potentially sick people. Instead, I felt compelled to help. My job as a Kroger cashier, assisting people in getting the medicine and other household items they needed, has solidified my dream to be a nurse. I had to exercise compassion, patience and quick thinking under pressure. And I am so very grateful for that experience.

What I hope you graduates have learned from this experience is that you have to be in the moment and live for today. Have goals and dreams, but be adaptable. Congratulations, Class of 2020. We did it. And I wish you the best.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAVV'S "LIGHTHOUSE")

MARTIN: Hayley Watts is a Kroger Foods cashier and a graduating senior at Chamblee Charter High School just outside of Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAVV'S "LIGHTHOUSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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