Caledonia — The day before their high school graduation, seniors Aidan and Lydia Sowerby spent time relaxing at home with their curious goldendoodle, Winnie.
Outside the twins’ home in Middleville, down the winding driveway, two yard signs displayed their names in recognition of the Caledonia High School class of 2022.
“Our mom insisted on buying those signs the minute they went on sale,” Lydia said.
The congratulatory signs represent four years of academics, athletics and a symbiosis between the Sowerby family and Caledonia Community Schools.
Aidan and Lydia transferred to CCS from Thornapple Kellogg in fifth grade.
“Both of our parents worked in Caledonia and our school didn’t have an orchestra program for fifth-graders, so we switched to Emmons Lake and finished at the high school,” Lydia said.
Leading up to their senior year, both Aidan and Lydia described themselves as go-getters.
Lydia played volleyball for two years before switching sports to playing tennis as a junior and senior. She joined Future Farmers of America as a junior and served alongside her brother on student council and the National Honor Society.
Aidan was on the tennis team all four years and volunteered with the League of Everyday Guys Inspiring Our Neighbors, or LEGION.
“Our social lives are completely opposite, but our leadership aspects are the same,” he said. “We were raised to be go-getters and go go go.”
Added Lydia: “We’ve done a good job at doing our own things, but also forming our own identities.”
The Sowerby family came together around music: mom was a music education major in college, Aidan plays bass and Lydia plays violin.
Sadly, the Sowerby senior year symphony had to keep playing without its conductor, the late David Sowerby.
The Gift of Music
The orchestra teacher and avid bicyclist died on Nov. 13, 2021, after a long battle with Crohn’s disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis and colorectal cancer.
As a teacher at the school his children attended, news of Sowerby’s death spread quickly and the community rallied for the twins and their family.
“I felt better that everyone knew, because people reached out and I felt supported by everyone around us,” Lydia said.
Aidan added: “At his funeral, we ran out of seats and there were people standing.”
The loss of their father impacted both his children in different ways.
“My classes were pretty easy and teachers were super understanding, but it really affected my social life more,” Lydia said. “You feel a loss of motivation to go out with your friends and feel stuck dealing with loss while everyone else is moving on.”
Student Council class teacher Ian Durkee noticed the twins’ efforts to stay positive despite grieving and coping with loss.
“Aidan became a better leader after his dad’s passing and became very open about mental health,” he said. “Lydia stayed very involved, which helped her cope.”
He added: “Their dad fought cancer throughout their whole high school career and passed away during their senior year, and there is a closure in that.”
Becky Sowerby, the twins’ mother and seventh-grade STEM teacher at Kraft Meadows Intermediate, said the district has been “nothing short of amazing to our whole family.”
“They lifted all of us up constantly and made sure my kids and David and myself were taken care of,” she said.
In May, Duncan Lake Middle School’s eighth-grade orchestra collaborated with high school orchestra students to perform a tribute concert in his honor.
In a 2020 interview with School News Network, David Sowerby said he knew playing the violin was his gift, “something that I could pass on.”
And pass it on he has.
“I have all his old records and got a record player for Christmas,” Lydia said. “They’re all classical music, but my dad was also a big ‘80s guy.”
Since his dad’s death, Aidan is teaching himself to play the guitar.
Starting a New Chapter
This fall, the twins will head to Western Michigan University, where Aidan plans to study journalism and political science and Lydia will major in biology with plans to eventually pursue something in the medical field.
“We didn’t plan on ending up at the same school,” Lydia said. “We applied to different schools but Western offered a lot of diverse programs and a good-sized campus.”
Added Aidan: “We even got assigned to live on the same floor in the same dorm and will be in some of the same classes.”
Their goals include doing well in classes, building healthy habits and balancing their school work and social lives.
Durkee’s advice for the graduating seniors: “Stay true to yourself and surround yourself with positive people. Keep each other close and stay true to your own identities.”
As their high school chapter ends, both seniors learned resilience and compassion for themselves and others.
“It’s really difficult at first to overcome things, but you grow through what you go through,” Lydia said. “You learn to cope, make the most of it and enjoy what you have. You’ll meet people along your journey who will only be with you for a short time, but you remember how they impacted you and carry the love they gave you.”