EUGENE, Ore. — Here in Western Oregon, there’s never a shortage of outstanding high school students, but one girl at Willamette High stands out as a cut above the rest.
“I am here, I think, for a purpose that’s larger than myself,” said Willamette High School senior MacKenzie McCausland.
Every morning, while most kids at Willamette High School mingle in the hallways, McCausland works behind the counter, making lattes and selling slices of pizza. Just 17, she’s the manager of the school store, Planet Willy’s.
She lives with her mom and brother and sister in the tiny town of Alvadore. In the summer, she volunteers at the library there. She’s also a student teller at Northwest Community Credit Union. On Sundays, she teaches 4-year-olds at Grace Community Fellowship.
It’s that spirit of giving that propelled her to the stage at the Eugene Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet, where she was named the Future First Citizen of 2014. The award comes with a scholarship and a plaque celebrating her young life–a life that was almost cut short.
“Right before my junior year, I actually had a cardiac arrest,” McCausland said.
It happened on a Monday morning in August, just before her junior year. She was at the high school doing warm-ups for cross country practice. Ten days later she woke up in OHSU in Portland.
“I came out just so thankful to even be alive that it really was a drastic shift in everything I was doing really,” she said.
She’s still on constant medication and has an internal defibrillator in her chest. She can’t play sports anymore, giving up a promising career in track and field.
When asked if she misses sports, she said, “I do. Yes. I mean, it’s hard, but yeah, there’s other things.”
Those other things include volunteering with the cross country team, which she did this year.
“I’ve been teaching for 30 years. And she’s extraordinary,” said Marcy Boyd.
Boyd, a business teacher at Willamette High School, has known MacKenzie all four years. She describes her as unassuming and kind.
“You would never guess that she’s first in her class,” Boyd said.
When she’s not in school, McCausland likes to play the piano, to read, to work outside. Quiet things.
“I came out with probably a very different perspective than I ever could have had,” McCausland said.
And what is that perspective? What is her goal in life?
“I think, find where I’m meant to serve. Find the good that I’m meant to do, and do it,” she said.
It’s a vision for living that’s far beyond her years.