2020 Oregon Delegate Haiden Wiggins reached new heights of appreciation for the beautiful mountainous region she lives in, took on the mantel of her school mascot to spread hope and school spirit, and learned to drive a farm combine during the global pandemic

We continue our Blog series about the 2020 Delegates and how they have been faring since Washington Week was canceled due to the global pandemic. Two outstanding student leaders are selected to serve as USSYP delegates from each state in the nation, as well as the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity.  Learning of the breadth and beauty of our country as they share home state stories and photos is one of the profound gifts of the program. We applaud all of our 2020 students who contributed to this blog series.

Haiden Wiggins, 2020 Oregon delegate

USSYP:   What has been happening in your life since the announcement of the pandemic?

While so much of the world seemed as if it was put on hold, this was not the case in my life and community. While my community is rather small, in Eastern Oregon, with a population of about 500, and a high school with an average graduating class of 20 people, the world did not seem to stop right away. The first impact of the pandemic on my life was the cancelation of the USSYP trip. This came as quite a shock to me since in my rural community we really had not seen any change in daily life and really no concern for what was about to hit us. Around 2 weeks after the cancellation of USSYP we got the announcement that as a state we would essentially have an extra week of spring break and then return to normal. With this change and guidelines that were set by our governor, all of my upcoming trips such as Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Future Business Leaders of America were cancelled.

This was upsetting initially, but eventually I saw the bigger picture of why these events could not happen. Even after this, most of my friends and I were so excited that we were getting an extra week off. Unfortunately, that did not hold true, as we were swept into a whirlwind of trying to plan remote graduations and balance online school with jobs and family matters. For the most part everything was going smoothly, we still had an amazing ceremony for the seniors that were graduating where all of the community was able to watch from the safety of cars. We were able to fit the whole community on the football field to watch our graduates cross the stage. Luckily before it got too bad, a few close friends and I even planned a small remote prom. Just as things were looking up, our county got a huge setback, related to an outbreak at a local church. Luckily through all of this my community has relied on its ability to stay together from far away.

I feel very fortunate, as a senior myself this year, that we have been able to return to school in person, at least so far, in my small community.

Socially distant graduation ceremony by car at Cove High School in Eastern Oregon.

USSYP:  Did you have an opportunity to partake in Washington Week Online, and if so, which speakers and events were most impactful for you?

Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins speaks with 2020 USSYP delegates as part of Washington Week Online. © Photo by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

I did have the wonderful opportunity to partake in the online sessions of Washington Week, and they were absolutely amazing. It was so powerful to hear from some of the leaders of our country who are working the front lines of this pandemic. Hearing from the National Institutes of Health was especially impactful because it came at a time in my community when the pandemic was not taken seriously, so hearing from the National Institutes of Health Director, Dr. Francis Collins really shed a much-needed light for me to see just how impactful this pandemic was going to be. I was able to learn how to take preventive measures to ensure safety for myself and those around me.

USSYP:  Technology has made it possible for you to know and be engaged with your fellow 2020 delegates.  Have you formed friendships or special connections?

Technology these days never fails to amaze me. Even before the trip got cancelled the delegates had started a group chat which was so crazy because we were chatting with over 100 people who had never met in person, and yet we were able to share really cool stories. After the cancellation this didn’t change, all the delegates are still active in the group chat and still communicate on a daily basis, sometimes helping each other with homework, college essays, or even just fun debates with fellow delegates.

This was also the start of an amazing friendship I formed with one of my neighboring state’s delegate. Since I was flying out of the Idaho airport which is actually closer to my home, I had connected with one of the Idaho delegates, Beckett Bodell, so we could meet at the airport and find each other. Obviously, we never got to meet at the airport, but that never stopped us from talking. We usually talk still at least once a day, have a ton of inside jokes, and have even planned to meet when it is safe to do so. We have become such close friends throughout all of this, and that is one huge benefit to being in this program even if we did not get to go on the trip.

USSYP:  Has the pandemic had any positive effects in your life? Have you taken up a new hobby or read any books during this unusual excess of time that you can share or recommend? What do you feel you have learned from this experience so far? 

One of the most positive effects that this pandemic has had for me is being able to slow down in my life and appreciate the things around me in a whole other perspective. I live in a very mountainous region of Oregon, so I started going on hikes and drives all around the mountains with close friends exploring the beautiful world that we live in. I even got to experience going to the top of the mountain behind my town to see the entire Grande Ronde Valley. It was truly amazing, and probably something I would not have taken the time to experience if other activity centers were open and for that I am so grateful.

Haiden Wiggins overlooking the Grande Ronde Valley, Oregon 

In addition to this I tried something I never thought I would do, learning to drive a combine during bluegrass harvest season for a local farmer.  I was sad that the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show that I usually participate in as an FFA member was cancelled, however, I was able to participate in the first virtual livestock sale, where I sold my FFA hog.  I think the hardest part of this entire pandemic is only being able to see two of my close friends. While I wouldn’t trade that for the world, because I know many do not even get to do this, I am a very social person, and not being able to see my classmates and other friends has been really difficult.

USSYP: Have there been any instances where your natural inclinations toward leadership and service have shone through?

Since I am always wanting to interact with people, I decided to look for other ways to help and serve my community. One way I was able to do this was by helping deliver meals during the last quarter of school. Our school was fortunate enough to be able to open our cafeteria and make over 250 meals that we would deliver daily to kids, teens, adults, and senior citizens around our community. I was lucky enough to help deliver these meals while wearing our school mascot costume, Leo the Cove Leopard.

Since we could not have our annual winter sports award ceremony, I also dressed up as our school mascot again and delivered athletic awards along with the coaches, to individual student’s homes.  This was such an awesome experience being able to interact with the community in a safe and positive way.

Haiden Wiggins as the Cove School Mascot, Leo the Leopard

USSYP:  Has the experience of the pandemic changed any of your original thoughts for your future?

This pandemic has changed a few things about my future moving forward. I’m planning to attend the University of Wyoming in the Fall of 2021. I have changed my ideas of what I want to focus on learning about. This pandemic has allowed me to open my mind into helping people in different ways, through community outreach and volunteering. I have realized that I might want to do some type of volunteering or exploring in other countries, or even our own.