“I would make a difference through my career. The one main thing holding me to nursing is that nurses aren’t just people that take care of you when you’re sick. They aren’t just the people that check your vitals. They’re so much more than that. They are people who are there for you during the hard times, and they’re there to comfort you and be empathetic. Having experienced people who have been so empathetic toward me and my challenges, if I make that difference for someone who’s going through something similar…if I can make their day just a little bit better or help them grieve, that’s how I would make my dent [in the world.]”
It takes a special brand of resilience to seek employment in a NICU, but that’s where senior Johanna Shields sees herself on the other side of Kaskaskia College’s nursing program. She starts in the fall and will chip away at those general education requirements but hopes to start the nursing program proper in January 2024. “This is kind of all new to me,” she says. “I struggled back and forth with what I wanted to do for a really long time and I knew I wanted to work in the medical field. I just really didn’t know what I wanted to do, so this is kind of a start.” Johanna’s fearlessness to take steps into unfamiliar territory is a trait she claims she inherited from her mother. “I would say my biggest inspiration to just keep working is my mom, which is so cheesy,” she jokes, “but my mom has raised four kids. She’s the most hardworking woman I’ve ever met in my whole life. She has her own business, and I have no clue what I would do without her.”
However, one must tread in the garden of fear and grief and lament all its disappointing fruits to reach a state of fearlessness. “I would 100% tell fifth or sixth grade me that what happens now, in high school or in your life, ten years from now will seem minuscule,” Johanna explains. “My mom always told me from the start, high school is where you find out where all your real friends are.” During her freshman year, she lost her two best friends, Holly and Jenna, to a fatal auto accident. She weathered that grief while the pandemic introduced its unique assortment of isolations and world-shaking implications for her life’s stability. It’s a time she “would not like to remember,” but she’s demonstrated an amazing dose of anti-fragility by repurposing her uncertainty into forward momentum.
If she could offer senior wisdom to the incoming class, it would be a message of self-care, patience, and living in the moment. “There’s no expectation at all,” she exclaims. “You have so much time to figure out who you want to be and what you want to do with your life. You are still so young and you have so much time to figure out what you want to do, and it is okay not to know.” Her words are so potent, even to us stubborn-headed older adults who think we know so much, that we’ve bookended this story with Johannaisms. It seemed the appropriate thing to do with a soon-to-be superstar nurse who spits gold when she talks silver.
At the beginning of my senior year, I realized that you don’t have to care what anyone thinks about you. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is how you feel about yourself and the standards that you want to have and want to uphold to yourself.