Randolph-Macon Academy Cadet Kisyl M. Housden joins dozens of her fellow students moving to the next stage of life.

More than 40 students will graduate from the academy in Front Royal this weekend. Events take place today through Sunday, with commencement scheduled for Saturday.

Housden, 18, of Front Royal, is this year’s valedictorian. She plans to attend Cornell University and earn a degree in biomedical engineering before attending medical school.

“That’s been my dream ever since I was little, ‘cause I really have a passion for caring for people and helping them,” Housden said.

As she prepares for graduation, Housden reflected on her time at the academy.

“I definitely couldn’t be where I am today without R-MA,” Housden said. “It’s just been a true blessing, and I’m gonna look back at this time and it’s only going to be filled with amazing memories, like, the relationships I have created with my classmates and teachers are so strong.”

Housden lives with her parents and little brother in Front Royal. She enrolled at R-MA in the ninth grade after having been homeschooled. Housden said she chose R-MA because she wanted to fulfill her academic potential. She and her parents had looked for schools that offered Advanced Placement and honors classes. Housden took a geometry course at the academy the summer before ninth grade to get ahead in math — her favorite subject along with science.

“I got an ‘outstanding’ in that course and I was like, I told my mom that this is the school for me,” Housden said. “It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made and I love R-MA so much.”

The academy provides support and guidance from the beginning, Housden said. Mary A. Gamache, director of college and career counseling, helped her prepare for college as early as ninth grade, Housden said. The cadet added that the school offers a rigorous and challenging curriculum.

Gamache spoke highly of Housden and how she faces challenges.

“If you look under ‘positive attitude,’ her picture will be there,” Gamache said. “But I’ve seen her face adversity with a smile and, I mean, you know, usually with teenagers there’s, like, all this drama and stuff like that, it isn’t with Kisyl. I don’t know how she does it.”

Housden thanked Gamache for helping her through school.

“That means a lot to me,” Housden said.

The academy also teaches students leadership skills, useful in whatever fields graduates enter after high school — military or civilian, Housden said.

Gamache helped her choose and apply to colleges, Housden said. The cadet chose Cornell out of more than half a dozen colleges that accepted her. Housden recalled that Cornell notified her that she likely would be accepted and then later she received an acceptance letter.

“I freaked out and it was just a completely wonderful moment for me,” said Housden, who is a member of six honor societies.

Housden took a virtual tour of the Cornell campus because the COVID-19 pandemic kept her from visiting the school in person. She said she’s excited to visit the campus this summer.

Before the pandemic, Housden volunteered in the VolunTeen program at Warren Memorial Hospital, which she called a wonderful experience to see the medical field first-hand and a healthcare environment. The experience helped her make a final decision on her career path, she said.

Housden and other students faced challenges this year as schools tackled the pandemic and put in place measures to prevent exposure.

“Well, R-MA has been, like, honestly the best school I’ve ever seen handling with COVID, especially due to the fact we have to wear masks constantly and keep the distance 6 feet,” Housden said. “So we luckily haven’t had any COVID outbreaks and it’s been COVID-free.

“I don’t know how many high schools can say that,” Housden said. “It’s definitely been a blessing.”

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com