Madisyn Wallace looks back on her high school experience fondly, even though she faced personal trials and tribulations.
The 17-year-old Bel Air High School student was excited to graduate on June 12, she said, and glad to be taking the next step, but she was also cognizant of the changes her graduation will make to her life. Her high school experience, the friendships she forged and those she lost, helped her to grow and realize her self-worth.
Beyond friendships, she also lost her mother, Marianne McDonough, her junior year. McDonough was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Wallace explained, a treatable but incurable cancer of white blood cells that normally produce antibodies. She had multiple treatments and transplants for the condition, but not all of them were successful.
One day, doctors informed her that the cancer had spread. She began home-hospice thereafter and died on Christmas Day in 2018, Wallace said.
Watching her mother undergo palliative care was painful for Wallace. She said she had to grow up fast and learn to be independent after that. It was her biggest challenge.
“I thought that would honestly ruin the person I was,” she said. “In reality, that has made me into a stronger individual. That experience has made me who I am and I am thankful for how I developed.”
To come to terms with her mother’s death, Wallace said she hung out with people who “bring out the good in her,” she said, and talked about the experience.
“God’s plan is always bigger than mine,” she said.
Cortney Amend, Wallace’s 34-year-old cousin, became Wallace’s guardian after her mother died. She was close with Wallace and her mother — living in the same Bel Air neighborhood as them, even — and Wallace moved in with her in 2018.
Amend said graduation has come in a rush. Her own son is 14-years-old, so she has time to prepare for his graduation.
“When Madisyn came with us it was like, ‘oh gosh, she is already a senior,‘” Amend said.
Amend said Wallace mother’s death could have “destroyed her,” but she instead came through stronger. Wallace and Amend reminisce about McDonough, fondly watching videos of her dancing around the kitchen as a reminder of her life instead of a fixation on her death.
“She has turned it around and said ‘bad things happen but I can do better; I can be OK,‘” Amend said. “I am thankful to be a piece of everything for her.”
And the outpouring of support for the family was enormous. McDonough’s funeral services were standing room only, Amend said teachers, classmates and many in Bel Air turned out to support them.
“I have never seen so much support from the community,” Amend said. “I am super proud to live in Harford County.”
Through that upheaval, Wallace endeavored to be a good student, she said. Her work paid off, and she has matriculated into Towson University where she plans to study marketing and translate her degree into a job for Under Armour or another large clothing brand. Though those are her top choices, Wallace said she could also do marketing for pharmaceuticals.
The draw of working for Under Armor, Wallace explained, was her interest in finding new clothing that others love and the challenge of a marketing job.
The pandemic disrupted Wallace’s senior year, and events like prom, a traditional graduation, the school’s senior awards and others fell by the wayside. But Wallace said she is simply thankful for the experiences she had before schools shuttered.
Wallace said a number of her friends will attend Harford Community College, as will her boyfriend, so she will not be alone in the area. She plans to commute to Towson for her first year because of the pandemic, but she will look for an apartment her sophomore year. She and a roommate already had a living situation planned when the pandemic struck, so they were deferred a year.
Though Wallace will have old friends nearby, she is also excited to make new ones as she forges ahead, she said.
Wallace advised future graduates to be positive and face the future with enthusiasm and confidence, knowing that their high-water mark is on the horizon.
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“You have survived everything you have gone through up to this point,” she said. “The best day of your life is still yet to come.”