With her guitar tuned and cowboy boots tall, MacKenzie Van Dorp is following a dream to sing in the Music City.
MacKenzie, who graduated with her classmates on May 24, will attend Nashville State Community College in the fall to study music technology, and plans to sing and write songs.
The young country music crooner has played guitar since age 8 and taken vocal lessons since she was 10. She started playing piano two years ago, and was in band in middle school, and choir all through high school.
She recently performed “Black Roses,” a song from the television show “Nashville” during a cabaret choir show. She’s excited to experience life in the home of country music, she said, where her favorite singers — Reba McEntire, George Strait and Kelly Clarkson — have made their mark.
“I want to perform something that will touch somebody’s heart,” she said.
Music helped MacKenzie through some of her hardest days, she said, when it was a healing force for anxieties and illness. Not long ago, Mackenzie spent hours every day washing her hands and showering. Fear of germs, a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, interfered with her daily life and caused her to withdraw socially.
“I didn’t want to go to school or leave the house because I knew when I came home I would shower for an hour and a half,” she said. “It became easier to just seclude myself.”
Though she didn’t skip school, she said she constantly applied hand sanitizer and washed her hands for long periods of time, causing them to crack and bleed.
“My hands got so raw they were black and blue because they were so dry.”
MacKenzie developed OCD following several traumatic events between the ages of 11 and 13. Her grandparents, with whom she was very close, were killed in an accident. An aunt, uncle, another grandfather, and a girl she mentored also passed away. Adding to the trauma, MacKenzie was attacked by a dog, and her own dog was killed when it was hit by school bus.
“Those events all kind of added up together,” she said, of developing the disorder.
Finding the right treatment took time. Finally, MacKenzie was put on a medication that worked.
“Within six weeks I was back to myself,” she said. While she still has symptoms, she said they no longer keep her from doing things she wants to do.
“While I hated going through it, I wouldn’t change that experience for the world because it made me who I am today, and I am so much stronger than I was before,” she said.
Around the same time, Mackenzie also learned she has Hashimoto’s disease, a chronic condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid.
“I missed more school than I probably missed in the six years before combined,” she said. “This year, during the first trimester, I missed 10-12 days of school because I physically couldn’t be here.”
But the scariest situation occurred this winter, when MacKenzie had a reaction to medication and suddenly felt jittery and shaky during choir class. She recalled grabbing the student next to her and saying she felt like she was going to pass out. A heart-rate monitor on her watch read in the 180s. Her chest tightened so much that she was taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Through it all, MacKenzie said she was able to keep up with school.
“I really had great teachers,” she said. “When I (was absent) I would send them an email to ask what I missed in class, and I would do what I had to do so I wouldn’t get behind.”
Guidance counselor Kurtis Hoffman praised McKenzie’s determination. “I am very proud of her, and I know that this is only the beginning for her journey into adulthood,” he said. “She has handled much more than most people will handle in a lifetime.”
MacKenzie was in Stacy Bender’s food science class while she was being tested for food sensitivities. Though discouraged at first, Bender said Stacy took the opportunity to learn how to equip herself with knowledge to improve her own health.
“It started to empower her, and she started to educate herself further so she could be an advocate for herself,” Bender recalled.
And Bender said MacKenzie made every effort stay on top of the work, despite being absent due to illness. “She’s beyond her years in maturity level and communication.”
MacKenzie said her parents, Robyn and Tony Van Dorp, have always told her to work hard and do her best.
Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in second grade, she said she has always needed extra time.
“I have always just done 110 percent for everything I could do because that’s how I was raised… I’m lucky to have parents who sat up with me until two in the morning to help me study and get my work done, and were patient with me when it took two hours to do one homework assignment.”
Most of all, she said, she hopes her story helps others who are going through struggles. She has already helped a friend who was having mental health challenges get help.
“I’m lucky I’ve been raised with a very strong faith and very strong foundation in God, and I believe he doesn’t make any mistakes. I know everything that happens, he has a purpose for it,” she said. “If, because of what I have been through, I can help just one person, it’s worth it.”
Perhaps she will do that from a Nashville stage. Music is a way to connect with others in a deep, personal way, she said.
“I’m drawn to music because of the stories you can tell, and how healing it can be for people,” she said. “That’s what kind of got me through everything.”