CASS LAKE -- Pandemic aside, the 2019-20 school year has been a memorable one for Avery Matthews.

The Cass Lake-Bena senior was chosen as homecoming queen, snowball queen and female student-athlete of the year by the Minnesota Indian Education Association, all while maintaining a high grade point average, taking college classes and working as a certified nursing assistant.

Despite the strange end to the year, Matthews said, “The beginning was worth it.”

“School actually went really well, it was probably my favorite year. It went by really fast. It’s going by slowly now, but fast at the same time,” she added.

She is graduating Friday as a member of the Panthers class of 2020 and is well on her way to pursuing a career in the medical field.

Matthews has already gained experience in the field and in the college classroom -- she participated in programs through Leech Lake Tribal College and Northwest Technical College and currently works at an assisted living center in Bemidji.

Her proudest high school accomplishments were maintaining the A-honor roll and becoming a certified nursing assistant.

She was particularly proud of earning her certification because of 16 students in her CNA training course, only two passed, Matthews explained.

In the fall, she will attend North Dakota State University to study radiological sciences and hopes in the future to be an X-ray technician.

Matthews knew she was interested in science and the medical field but didn’t settle on becoming an X-ray technician until she participated in Mayo Clinic’s Career Immersion Program, which is designed to allow Minnesota high school junior and senior students to explore health science careers at Mayo's Rochester campus.

While volleyball was a large part of her high school life, she doesn’t plan to play in a collegiate capacity but hopes to do intramural volleyball and softball at NDSU, she said.

The COVID-19 situation has made Matthews both excited and nervous about pursuing a career in the medical field, but she feels she thrives under stress.

“I’m definitely nervous even coming to work, it’s kind of scary going back home because I live with my grandma,” she explained. “But it also excites me the way people are so proud and grateful (for medical workers).”

In lieu of a traditional commencement ceremony, Matthews and her classmates will be celebrated at 7 p.m. on May 29 with a graduation procession. Spectators have been encouraged to send the class off with honks and hollers. The route will be the length of Second Street through Fox Creek to the bus entrance of the school. Students have been asked to remain in their vehicles.