As high schools in the Newtown area draw to a close, there’s a certain wistfulness that sets upon many graduating seniors who are going on to college.
Those of us who have been there and will admit to our feelings remember the vastness of the impending transition, and an anxiety for some bordering on fear. There’s the sense that some of your friends you will never see again. There are last farewell camping trips before the summer is out. There are vague plans set to make epic road trips to visit choice buddies first semester of college.
This is one such story, playing out in Newtown and nearby in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. the Hudson Valley home to Oakwood Friends School.
There is Jonathan Cochrane, of Newtown, otherwise known as Jonnie. And, from so far away is his best friend since 10th grade, Shenghao Li, from Qingdao, China, who everyone calls Daniel.
Daniel and Jonnie met as entering sophomores at Oakwood Friends, at orientation. Jonnie’s parents invited Daniel’s parents to stay in Newtown for the ensuing week, with the two boys.
Daniel and Jonnie were both fulltime boarding students at Oakwood Friends. They were roommates the first two years. Their corner room was “boring white,” said Jonnie. They painted it dark blue and green. They wrote things in Chinese characters and their friends wrote their favorite quotes on the wall using Sharpies.
The two went to Newtown almost every other weekend and every holiday. They also took two trips to Florida with Jonnie’s family, one of which was to Disney World.
During his spring break as a sophomore, Jonnie spent two weeks in China with Daniel, visiting Beijing and Qingdao. At the end of junior year, Jonnie returned to China, visiting Shanghai and going back to Daniel’s city.
“We became best friends,” says Daniel. “I have a big family and it was amazing to them that we could live halfway across the world and be such good friends.”
“We’re so different, we’re the same,” says Jonnie.
Daniel says they have lots of similar interests except Jonnie likes cheese and horror movies. Jonnie fills in immediately, and says Daniel is different because he likes sports and studying.
Jonnie says his father is an executive at Pepsi, and Daniel says, “and I like Pepsi.” In what Jonnie calls “a perfect coincidence,” Daniel’s room in China, since he was very young, has been decorated with posters of Pepsi-endorsed soccer players and singers. He also collected Pepsi soccer jerseys.
Asked to say something about the other, Jonnie reiterates, “he doesn’t like cheese. But he loves food, especially Chinese food, though he does like burgers as long as they’re not cheeseburgers. He’s into soccer and hip-hop dancing….” As if on cue, Daniel begins to move the muscles in his outstretched arms in undulating waves and jerks.
Daniel says Jonnie is good at photography, disc-jockeying and putting music with video. “He’s into dub step and musical equipment.”
So, what’s next for the two boys?
Last year, Jonnie’s parents took Daniel along on college visits. They visited Skidmore in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., because Jonnie’s sister is there.
And so it is that Daniel got into Skidmore and will be going there this fall to study business and media. Jonnie will also be in upstate New York, at Hobart and William Smith in Geneva, as a pre-med student.
On June 8, the two graduated with 30 others from the Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie. Daniel will be staying with Jonnie’s family for a week, and then returns to China.
So, will the two be able to get together thereafter?
“Maybe Thanksgiving,” mused Daniel.
Oakwood Friends School, founded in 1796, is an independent, coeducational, college preparatory day and boarding school serving grades 6-12. Guided by Quaker values, Oakwood Friends educates and strengthens young people for lives of conscience, compassion and accomplishment. It fosters a diverse community of students and staff in an atmosphere of mutual respect and enrichment, sensitive to the world and its needs.