Mackenzie Bates, 18, of Front Royal stands outside Warren County High School. Bates will join her classmates on Saturday at 8 a.m. for graduation ceremonies on the school’s football field.

Warren County High School’s Class of 2021 will step into the future Saturday after a year of challenges and uncertainty.

Senior Mackenzie Bates said the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges as she and her fellow classmates adjusted to distance learning and virtual classes.

“It was definitely a struggle with school. You don’t realize how much you need to be in school to focus,” said Bates, who is a member of the National Honor Society. “I definitely think that being at home taught me self-discipline and more time management than I already had, and I definitely think coming to school, before, you know, everyone took it for granted and being told that you can’t come to school, it just puts it in a completely different perspective. Definitely very grateful to have spent the last few months of my senior year in school.”

A scholar-athlete, Bates played varsity basketball all four years in high school. She was also a manager of the football team for two years.

The pandemic also affected sports schedules. The varsity basketball season started at a different time with teams playing fewer games, Bates said. The team had to quarantine at one point during the season and lost players who had to quarantine.

“So it was definitely just up in the air, for sure,” Bates said. “We never knew what was coming next but, again, (I’m) very grateful for having even been able to play this year and last year as well because the spring sports didn’t get to play — so luckily I play winter sports.”

Bates said she was grateful that the school lifted certain restrictions on the graduation ceremony, such as the number of guests each student could ask. Bates said she was also grateful that the school could hold graduation at all. Some schools held drive-through graduations last year to prevent exposure to the virus.

Bates said she wants to pursue a career in nursing and plans to attend Shenandoah University in the fall. Bates completed the certified nursing assistant program at Blue Ridge Technical Center and received her CNA license last summer. Bates said she wants to become a registered nurse and ultimately work as a labor-and-deliver nurse.

“Actually, my parents were telling me about my birth story and just, you know, the way they described the nurse, she pretty much did a lot of things,” Bates recalled. “I had some complications, and she was the one who basically did everything, you know. It was very inspiring and touching so I just want to be able to do that for someone else and someone else’s family.”

Bates said she plans to spend as much time with her friends as possible this summer before everyone moves on to college.

She also had some advice for rising seniors.

“I would just tell them to enjoy the time that they have because it flies by and, before you know it, it’s over,” Bates said. “Don’t take anything for granted — the dances, the football games, you know, just everything — you just have to soak it all in while you can.”

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com