When this year’s seniors started their final year of high school, they could not have imagined that their spring would involve canceled proms, drive-thru cap and gown pickups and postponed graduation ceremonies.
Since COVID-19 forced school closures in mid-March, the class of 2020 has had to cope with the loss of the many milestones that traditionally mark the end of a K-12 student’s career. On this segment of Embodied, host Anita Rao talks to high school seniors about how they are handling the present and looking to the future.
Connor Booher attends Christ School in Asheville. Sela Rosa is a graduating student at Durham Academy. Jarek Harris is a senior at Riverside High School in Durham. Kristy Newitt, counseling coordinator for Cumberland County Schools, also weighs in on how teachers and families are supporting students during this unusual time.
Here are four things the seniors in your life may be thinking about, as their high school careers come to an abrupt close.
Parting with friends has always been such sweet sorrow for seniors, but this year presented far fewer opportunities to hug, hang out and bond over shared hopes for post-high school successes. When Connor Booher left school for spring break on Feb. 28, he had no idea he would never return to his residential school’s campus.
“The fact that the majority of my friends at school don't actually live in my hometown kind of exacerbates a lot of the disappointment of all of this,” says Booher. “We realized that we wouldn't be going back to school. And all of my friends went back to the cities and states and even countries that they're from. There was a sense that that might be the last time that I see some of them.”
Sela Rosa says keeping in touch with friends — even while being unable to spend time with them in person — is a saving grace for her during quarantine. “I'm constantly talking with friends,” she says. “I find that distracting myself because I can't really do anything about the situation I'm in is the best way to handle it for now. My friends are extremely supportive.”
Students who would normally spend much more time outside of their homes than inside are relying on parents, siblings and relatives to help them through the long days of being homebound. In some cases, their families are relying more on them, too.
Jarek Harris says that, on top of missing out on many of his senior milestones, he is also worried about his mother right now.
“She’s actually high-risk because of her kidney failure. So we try to minimize her exposure during this time,” he says. “If we need to go out, I’m the one running in and out of stores, picking stuff up, making sure to constantly sanitize the house — just trying our very best to minimize any chances of exposure. But she's actually handling things pretty well. She's in high spirits. She's actually the one keeping everyone else's mind off of all the negativity that's going around right now.”
The high school experience should culminate in an auditorium full of raucous celebration. This year will be much quieter, with remote commencements being planned for late summer, in hopes that the stay-at-home orders will be lifted by then. Some schools are taking to the internet for online ceremonies. It can feel a bit anticlimactic after 12 years of hard work, but students and their loved ones are trying to make the best of it.
Kristy Newell says parents and teachers play important roles in acknowledging students’ accomplishments.
“I think if you can find ways of still celebrating them, whether it's doing the parade down the street or [yard signs announcing graduations, or] slideshows of all the seniors with pictures and putting that on social media and just trying to still recognize what they're doing.” She adds, “Still try to provide them with some special recognition that you've worked really hard and you have accomplished this, and we have not forgotten about that. And we do want to recognize you, but we have to do it during this health pandemic.”
Come what may, June marks the annual end of high school for graduates. That means grieving and letting go of the experience, even if it has to be done in unconventional ways. Says Harris, “Me and my friends, we wanted to go out with a bang, you know? We didn't feel like we would have to be cut short.” Booher agrees: “Now that so many events that I had looked forward to as a senior didn't come, I think it's kind of a little bit bittersweet and just really hits home how things are so impermanent.”
One way students are seeking out the silver lining is to focus on their plans for the future, whether they involve college, finding a job or joining the military. The pandemic leaves even students’ summer and fall plans in flux, but many are finding solace in the knowledge a promising future awaits, whenever colleges reopen and work resumes. Says Harris, “I'm really looking forward to the college life. That's something I've always wanted to experience. People say it's a good thing and pretty beneficial. So whether I’m on campus coming in the fall, or later, I'll be ready either way.”