Only seven months ago, we thought we had it all. We sat impatiently in our classes, knowing for sure these AP credits won’t transfer to the college we were so anxiously waiting to attend, so there was really no point in trying anyways. High school was coming to a close and we would soon enjoy the graduation festivities that we worked towards the past four years. Our egos were huge and we were unstoppable.
Then, on Friday, March 13, our glorious senior year of high school came to a screeching halt. I genuinely thought my English teacher was joking as he passed out the books we would be needing for the rest of the year, in the event we wouldn’t be meeting in person for a while.
“Ok, very funny, see ya Monday,” I said as I took a copy of Macbeth and carelessly walked out the door.
Little did we know, this would be our last day of high school as we knew it.
In the next few weeks, we were able to remain optimistic. Two weeks spent in sweatpants with tons of free time and some easy online school work sounded like a good idea at first. Sure, we could barely leave the house, and the numbers on the news were not looking very good. But somehow, we thought this was just a minuscule bump in the crazy road to graduation.
As the hours of Zoom classes droned on, we started to struggle with the unknowns of the situation. Questions ranging from “Why does the ‘returning to school’ date keep getting further and further away?” and “Did Carole Baskin actually kill her husband?” began to occupy our thoughts. Slowly but surely, we became familiar with phrases like “due to safety and health concerns” and “unprecedented times” as final sports’ seasons, musical performances and senior trips were suddenly non-existent. The reality of the situation started to sink in, and the list of canceled events kept growing.
Then, we started seeing “the V word” everywhere. You guessed it. Virtual. Everything from AP exams to awards banquets had been moved to an online format. Some students even decided where they would spend their next few years after high school based on virtual tours and information sessions. Then it happened. The announcement we all knew was coming but did not want to believe it was true.
Our hearts dropped as we read the headlines. “School will remain online for the rest of the year. Students will not be coming back for in-person instruction or events otherwise.” Senior year was over. This meant no senior prom and no in-person graduation.
That last month of school was supposed to be filled with moments of triumph and togetherness, but instead, everything was done sitting alone, in front of a computer screen. And while, yes, it was totally awful, I can’t say it didn’t have its perks. We became the first class ever to not have a traditional end to high school, so schools and communities responded in a non-traditional way. With the health and safety social distancing guidelines that were in place, options were limited, so it was time to get creative.
First came the yard signs. School districts across the country dropped off small poster boards in our front yard that said things like “Class of 2020 strong!” and “A 2020 Graduate lives here!” This was a contactless, simple way to show their sympathy, but to also recognize that we were still here. And while it may not seem like much, this was only the beginning. Some communities made group chats where you could “Adopt a 2020 Senior” so previous teachers and members of the community could send little gifts and well wishes. Next came videos from teachers, celebrities, and even national leaders. Former President Barack Obama made a brief video of congratulatory and uplifting words for the graduating class. These unexpected surprises lessened the sting of our special senior year, and honestly, really made us feel appreciated.
Then, the final puzzle piece, graduation. Yes, some schools just mailed their seniors their diplomas and said “sayonara.” But, there was also the innovative “socially distant graduation ceremony.” This ranged from ceremonies that were pre-recorded and watched at home, drive through graduations, in-person ceremonies where students stood 6 plus feet apart and graduation car parades. While these events had many safety guidelines, I must admit, some of these options do sound better than sitting in sweltering heat for hours on end just to hear your name called once. That is how normal graduations work, right?
So, high school is officially over. One way or another, we did get our diplomas. Now, the summer is coming to an end, but the craziness of the pandemic isn’t. This has resulted in a large range of post-graduation plans for our recent grads. Some of us are starting college and living on campus, some are starting college virtually from home, some are living on campus but taking all or some of their classes online, some decided to take a semester or a year off, and some of us still have no clue what we’re doing, and that’s okay. Regardless, now that the peer pressure of high school is long gone, the class of 2020 is doing what’s right for their health and safety, no matter what that may look like.
But for those of us entering college in one form or another, we’ll be freshmen once again. And if you thought college freshmen were clueless before, you’re not ready for the class of 2024. Our accepted students days, college orientation, and “welcome week” has been entirely virtual. Like most people, we’ve spent the last six months of our lives at home, staring at screens. And, we have no idea if we’re packing for the whole semester or just two weeks of it.
After the catastrophe and uncertainty of our senior year, we’re prepared for the worst and ready to adapt to just about anything. If there’s one good thing to come out of being a high school senior in 2020, it’s making friends with the unknowns, and not breaking down when things don’t go as planned. After six months or so, this becomes less of a shock. So yes, we had a rough senior year. But now, we’re ready for anything. And if we look confused walking around campus, we probably are. But we’ll try to make it less obvious by hiding it behind our masks.