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LIFE

School

What about the seniors?

Our 12-grade dean had just ripped off another number on the countdown calendar in the senior common room. Covert balloon orders had been placed to fill the school for our senior prank. Promposals were starting to take place in the hallways. My gown had been moved from the back to the front of my closet, a black halter design with a multicolored butterfly pattern. 

As the senior class sat together in a grade-level assembly, the head of school made an annoucement over the loudspeaker: Our spring break would begin one day early. We could hear cheers coming from the juniors downstairs (clearly they were eager to begin their vacay sooner rather than later). 

But a solemn air swept over us seniors. At our school, classes conclude in March because of an independent study program for the remaining months—and this announcement meant less time to say goodbye. But little did we know that it would be our last day together...ever.

That night I was studying for my calculus final when my dad burst into my room. "We just got a robo call," he started. "School is canceled indefinitely."

My mind raced in a million different directions: Would I ever even take the math final? When would I get to see my friends? What about prom? Senior dinner? How would we sign eachother's yearbooks? Would we even have graduation? I was so overcome with emotion it took me a few moments to realize I was wiping awy tears. 

My phone started blowing up with messages from my friends, who seemed equally as confused and bewildered as I was. The next day, each of us received an email from our advisor explaining that no one knew what was to come, and we were simply to stay put because of COVID-19.

Our class was torn apart—physically and emotionally. I had never anticipated such an abrupt departure from my school, a place I'd grown to know and love over the past six years. 

Looking back, I wish I would have further cherished those final moments: the analytical Advanced British Literature discussions, the notoriously long lunch lines and the packed free periods in our favorite senior hangout spot. If only we knew we were running out of time. 

During the past several weeks, I've taken part in grade-wide Zoom assemblies, connected with teachers digitally and even attended a virtual prom. But as my graduation date draws closer, I can't pretend that everything's normal—because it's not. 

I want that handshake with the head of my school as I strut proudly toward my diploma. I crave that final embrace with my group of friends who have supported me since the start. I want to treasure the moment when I glance across the room and see proud tears pouring out of my parents' eyes. I'll never get The Breakfast Club ending I'd been dreaming of since freshman year, where I march out of my school's doors, fist pumping in the air in triumph. There will be no slow dance at prom with the boy I've been crushing on since middle school. And I've accepted the face that I'll be receiving my diploma through the mail, as if I never really accomplished anything at all. 

The concluding moments of our high school careers have been taken from us—and that's not OK. 

While I recognize the extreme suffering and sacrifice happening all over the globe, my grade will forever be known as that class, the one in 2020, the one that never received a proper commencement because of COVID-19. The class without the pictures, the memories, the last hurrah. Years from now, when at a party and the conversation turns to prom or graduation, we'll be asked abut ours and we'll mumble, "We were the Class of 2020," and the conversation will awkwardly stop. Our class will be forever marked by the pandemic. 

Because of all of this, I've done a lot of soul searching to try to find a silver lining to the situation. And, actually, I think the Class of 2020 has already learned some valuable lessons. 

The stories we've been told our entire lives—the picture-perfect prom and graduation; the triumphant tossing of our caps in the air—have been rewritten. Traditions have been thrown out the window, but we've now learned that we don't have to cling to what's customary. While rituals are lovely and meaningful, they aren't ultimately necessary. We still can celebrate our accomplishments in our way. 

We seniors have found that we must be open to change, because it's going to happen. Whether we want it to or not, whether we are ready or not. And that knowledge can lead us to discover more about ourselves and our boundless potential. While the world is no doubt a much scarier place than when we started our senior year, I think the class of 2020 is much less scared by it. And we're ready to tackle whatever comes next. 

I heard that the countdown calendar is still up in my school's common room, frozen in time. As much as I wish we could go back to that moment when everything changed, we will move on. We must. After all, we are the courageous, resilient, transformative Class of 2020. 

Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our June/July 2020 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE

by Carrie Berk | 6/8/2020
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