James Rinderknecht, seen in the lobby of the school recently, was chosen as the 2021 Principal’s Award winner at Gardiner Area High School. The award is sponsored annually by the Maine Principals’ Association. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

GARDINER — The coronavirus pandemic taught James Rinderknecht to “go with the flow.”

In fact, his first day of work at American Eagle in Augusta was on the day everything shut down last March.

“I was all ready and everything,” he joked.

Rinderknecht is a student at Gardiner Area High School and the school’s recipient of the Maine Principals’ Association Principal’s Award. The award is given to a student, by their principal, in recognition of their academic success and good citizenship. 

Admitting his senior year wasn’t what he expected, he is happy to have the chance to go back to school, in-person, full-time at the high school.

He spent his senior year, and part of his junior year, adapting to a new schedule of hybrid learning.

“I used to have a really rigid schedule, I needed to know everything that was going on,” he said. “This year has made me go with the flow and adapt to changes quickly. Not a lot of positives came out of the pandemic, but that was one for me.”

Despite the circumstances, Rinderknecht still participated in the National Honor Society and The Interact Club, which helps run the Tiger Food Pantry.

The pantry was up and running when everything else was shut down from the pandemic. He, along with other members of the club, helped make sure the pantry was stocked, especially on the holidays.

“I like to help people out with what they need; it made me feel good to keep it going,” he said of the Tiger Food Pantry. “We didn’t have the club, but we did good in keeping the pantry running.”

On top of the clubs, Rinderknecht is a three-sport athlete. 

He missed out on his last wrestling season but was able to participate in running cross-country and playing lacrosse.

Between sports and the clubs Rinderknecht was involved in, he said the best part was seeing his friends again.

“I saw some friends I haven’t see in over a year,” he said. “It’s hard to think about. There were some I hadn’t seen in forever and some I hadn’t seen for a week. It’s not the same.”

He hopes the senior class at Gardiner Area High School will be able to have a prom and in-person graduation, but said he’s just happy to be back in school in person, full-time. Graduation is scheduled for Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center.

In the fall, he plans to attend the Colorado School of Mines to study engineering.

“It will definitely be a true college experience,” he said. “I’ll be getting out of my hometown, meeting new people. I know a lot of people stay in state, but I just want to get out there.”

As soon as it snows, Rinderknecht will be hitting the slopes.

“I love the thrill of going down the mountain,” he said. “My school is right at the base of the Rockies.”

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