by Mia Foster

As of April 10th, 19 states have extended school closures through the end of the school year, and all 50 states have currently mandated school closures, but not all have been extended through the spring (Nagel). These closures are imperative to efforts to flatten the curve, but the impacts on students’ academic progress and emotional wellbeing must be addressed. As a senior in high school, I have experienced this loss quite acutely. I can only speak to my experience, so I intend to inform you on how the closure affects the typical American coming-of-age experiences, how to support high school seniors around you, and ways to best replicate these quintessential experiences at home. 

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What is Lost

I remember watching High School Musical 3 on repeat as a kid, imagining my own prom dance and graduation. I knew it wouldn’t be exactly as it was portrayed in the movies, but I didn’t care; I just knew that a similar experience was waiting for me. Growing up in America, those experiences are universal and anticipated. I used to try on my mom’s prom dress. I was so little that the heavy, peach-colored fabric drowned me. I put on her too-large heels and she curled my hair. I was a princess. My mom looked at me through the mirror and smiled. I always assumed I would have a dress in my closet that my daughter could try on one day, dreaming of her prom and feeling like a princess. 

Maybe it was presumptuous, but I just assumed I would get ready with my friends, put on my own princess dress, and dance. I assumed I would experience Senior Assassins and the All-Night Grad Party, which are traditions at my school. I assumed I would walk across the stage to receive my diploma as I saw at my brother’s graduation two years prior. And, mainly, I assumed I would live these experiences with my friends at my side. The losses experienced by the senior class are not insignificant. I know that I am not alone in my loss because many others are experiencing extremely debilitating losses during the pandemic, such as the loss of a job or a loved one. However, through some reflection on this tendency of mine, I realized that comparing my loss to others did not help my emotional state or that of others suffering. Seniors, your loss is significant. You have every right to grieve; it wasn’t just a loss of these ceremonies, but also a loss of their symbolic significance in the journey to adulthood in America. It is OK to be upset.

How to Support Graduating Seniors

  • Listen. Even if you don’t understand why this is so upsetting for the high school senior you are talking to, recognize that they did experience a loss and often want an outlet to vent their grief. 
  • Remind them that you are proud of the accomplishments they have made in high school. Often, a graduation ceremony is a way of congratulating and celebrating the hard work of students. Without that, students may feel a lack of closure and genuine accomplishment. Kind words can make a huge difference.
  • Validate their experiences. I personally have felt guilty for feeling this loss, and many of my friends have expressed the same feeling. Giving the person space and permission to feel what they feel can be very liberating.

Coming-of-Age: Quarantine Edition

The events that have been canceled cannot be perfectly replicated, but I believe that we should do our best to have our own ceremonies and celebrations to help fill that hole and provide some closure. My school has scheduled a virtual commencement ceremony, and when my family told me they wanted to make a party out of it (with just our family), I started to cry. They plan to make my favorite foods and spend the evening together. This is a simple, powerful, and attainable way of celebrating graduation. It obviously isn’t the same, but by treating it as a unique event instead of dreading it because of how different it will be, it feels a bit better. Some schools or private organizations are also trying to plan prom dances for summertime, should large gatherings be permitted. Another idea is to make graduation parties prom-themed, assuming that smaller gatherings are permitted before the fall. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I was mainly sad about not getting my own prom dress and the experience of getting ready with my friends. This option fulfills that desire!

Graduation, prom, and other senior-year events are part of the quintessential high school experience in America. While we cannot fix the loss entirely, by respecting the emotions of graduating seniors and doing what we can to replicate these experiences, we can hopefully provide some of the closure and encouragement most of us yearn for. 

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Works Cited

Nagel, David. “Updated List of Statewide School Closures with Closure Dates.” THE Journal, 10 Apr. 2020, thejournal.com/articles/2020/03/17/list-of-states-shutting-down-all-their-schools-grows-to-36.aspx?m=1.

Seemingly overnight, the American academic system shifted for the worse due to COVID. Classes moved to fully remote instruction and students were forced to use their resources in order to succeed. Not everybody has the necessary resources, though. My laptop doesn’t work anymore and my best friend doesn’t have a laptop. It seems like this is the best route to go but this situation seems to favor students who have resources. I’m definitely fortunate in that I’m able to afford another laptop because of my financial aid check, but not everybody is so lucky, and resources are dwindling.

Online classes are certainly not optimal for most students. The likelihood that you have a concern with the material and can’t get in contact with a professor is high. I was waitlisted for a class and never heard from the professor, only to learn that the school wasn’t in contact with her about the waitlist. For students with learning disabilities, like another friend of mine, it can be even harder to succeed in an online setting. I wish there was a way to make online more accessible, but there’s unfortunately not, and students are suffering from this pandemic.

Financial aid and rent are also something I think about. I’m trying to sublease my apartment until June, but with the pandemic, people unfortunately aren’t interested in moving. I feel bad for the people that absolutely cannot afford rent due to being laid off from jobs or other personal circumstances, but it’s hard to get out of rent without breaching some sort of legality issues. I’d rather not pay rent for a place I’m not staying in, so I might just go back to Isla Vista for a month and a half. I really love my apartment and my roommate (it’s my stepsister!) but I also like the lowkey life I have in my hometown. Financial aid is important because students are paying to essentially teach themselves class material and still have money put towards on-campus resources (at UCSB, this includes the Rec Center and the library) that aren’t being used because they’ve closed down until further notice. A student at my school started a petition calling on the administration to reconsider charging students these on-campus fees, but no progress has been made. However, the petition has a lot of traction so I’m confident that the administration will rethink their charging habits. 

You might be wondering, how does this affect my academics? Well, it’s mostly about the uncertainty of the situation. I don’t know when I’m going back to Isla Vista and that makes me nervous. My new laptop is on the way, and I need to be able to use that in order to access my classes since propping my iPad up on my laptop in order to see the screen just isn’t cutting it LOL. The issue is, I don’t know when it’s coming.  It makes me nervous that I might have to go back and not have the new laptop I’ve been looking forward to buying since I was 20. In addition, it can sometimes be hard to focus because my dad often calls me when I’m in class and gets angry when I don’t respond. My brother plays loud music, and my mom is definitely a lot more polite about it but sometimes she doesn’t understand the concept of my education as well. It’s hard to make people realize that this is not a vacation for college students, and some people maybe never will.

Finally, because I didn’t want to take classes after I walked, I realized this quarter that I had to take 20 units in order to be ready for graduation.  I was afraid I’d lose that motivation. However, with graduation being postponed, it came to me that I didn’t have to take 20 units this quarter.  Rather, I’m now essentially stuck with these classes. I guess it’s my fault for failing a class last quarter, but I learned my lesson. With online courses, stress seems to increase and teachers don’t account for the change in instruction. They’re doing their best but some just don’t really care and it makes me sad.

Overall, I’m really not trying to blame anyone. This is a national pandemic that nobody could have prevented. It’s just unfortunate that so many students are suffering. I just wish there was a better way.