Aidan and Brady Johnson-Hill are making the best use of their time during this unprecedented time by working on the frontlines at their local grocery store and creating videos with their mom to encourage their school community.
Photo provided by Kelly Dilaha
Aidan and Brady Johnson-Hill are making the best use of their time during this unprecedented time by working on the frontlines at their local grocery store and creating videos with their mom to encourage their school community. Photo provided by Kelly Dilaha

Michigan students are handling pivotal life changes during a pandemic. This is the story of Bloomfield Hills twin high school seniors Aidan and Brady Johnson-Hill.

Welcome to our 3-part series highlighting how Michigan students are handling pivotal life changes during a pandemic. This is what it’s like to come of age during the coronavirus.

MICHIGAN — COVID-19 is Gen Z’s World War 1. 

Those are the sentiments of Bloomfield Hills twin high school seniors Aidan and Brady Johnson-Hill as they face this pandemic on the frontlines. They are the brave local grocery store clerks. The boys next door teetering on the edge of adulthood. The soon to be graduates who are also sad about missing out on all the accouterments that lead up high school graduation.

One thing they are not, though, are defeatists twiddling their thumbs on the sidelines, despite their crushing disappointments. 

The Class of 2020 2.0

Aidan said that it is sad that he will more than likely never see some of his classmates again and he didn’t get to go to the events he thought were guaranteed since he entered high school four years ago.

“I got to know a lot of the students as well as the teachers and was with them every single day — it is very disappointing to not be able to say goodbye,” Aidan said.

Brady agreed. 

“I’m in a band and we have concerts at the end of every year and senior year is special. We get to play a song to send the seniors off every year,” he said, adding but not this year. “In general it’s (celebrating) the hoopla behind the graduation — now we don’t have it.”

So from working on figuring out alternatives to prom with Zoom meetings to ramping up their social media use to check on their peers, the duo put their creative talents to use and along with their mother, Kelly Dillaha, to make a video for their Class of 2020 — and not just for their school. Dillaha, on the Parent Teacher Association of Seaholm (at Ernest W. Seaholm High School in Birmingham) used her connections to reach out to about 20 families representing different schools in the Birmingham-Bloomfield area who were featured in the video saying encouraging messages to the seniors.

“We didn’t know what we were going to get,” Dillaha said, of the roughly one-minute video adding that she and Aidan drove by the families in their car and slowed down for them to say their message on April 5. “Some people dressed in outfits, others decorated cars waved at us and cheered.

Word of mouth spread the video plan to others and initially 12 people volunteered but Dillaha wound up with more families. Brady edited the film and Dillaha shared it on different school-related websites April 8.

“A lot of people are being super negative and critical and it’s easy when we’re sitting home to second guess what everyone is doing,” she said. “(Everyone wanted to) let the seniors know that things seem uncertain and the community’s got your back.”

Aidan said that a lot of his friends saw the video and others shared it.

Brady said it’s great to be able to make something that got people involved and send a message, “Hey, it’s OK, we’re going to get through together,” he said.

Their family, like others, are dealing with financial strains. Dillaha, who runs a small business is not working; her husband received a pay cut. But their spirit and grit is as palpable now than ever. And it’s trickling down to their tenacious sons.

Beyond Paper or Plastic

Aidan and Brady are working at Hollywood Market in Troy and they said that they feel strongly about helping their community, although that decision was not easy. 

“Our family wrestled with are we comfortable with their exposure (to COVID-19) while working?” Dillaha said.

Brady said that other generations have had big events that have taken over their life like wars and depressions.

“This coronavirus is like our war, our big event where we have to prove ourselves and by continuing to work at our jobs at a grocery store we’re showing that we are courageous. We are brave — we are all of those things. It is our struggle. What our generation will be defined by in the future,” Brady said.

Aidan added that he was recently promoted from bagger to cashier before the coronavirus struck. They had roughly a dozen part-time workers; after the virus hit about half the workforce lost their jobs temporarily. The twins are now working five to six days a week to fill in where needed.

Brady said that there is a lot of demand for things like eggs and there is a lot of demand, naturally.

“Working at a grocery store is almost calming — it’s kind of strange. I feel like actually working is the most consistent thing right now for me and because of that it’s kind of helping me,” Brady said.

College or Bust

Brady said that he plans to go to Michigan State University to study public policy and international affairs. He is uncertain about whether his classes will be online or not; he plans to move to Lansing once he finds out if the school plans to open.

Aidan is deciding between two schools; he just got accepted to business schools at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and several other schools.

“A few other schools offered scholarships as well, I have to make a decision soon,” Brady said.

Dillaha said that they planned a graduation party in mid-August and a vacation to visit relatives in London.

“We’ll probably end up doing a much smaller affair when things get open back up again,” Dillaha said, adding that parents of two children get to experience milestones twice, but she didn’t with their graduation. “I just have the twins and I only get to do this once and it is something you look forward to  — seeing your kids graduate and that’s not going to happen, at least not in the way I anticipated.”