How Covid-19 is Making High School Seniors Better People – How Their Teachers Should Respond

In his twenty fifth produced play, All’s Well That Ends Well, William Shakespeare poignantly wrote that “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.” Today, this quote has been translated into the commonly heard saying, “Expectation is the root of all heartbreak.”  Never before have I truly understood this concept until March 13, 2020, when I unknowingly had my last day of high school. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, my last semester was devoid of the typical celebrations and parting sentiments. I have been seated on the sidelines watching patiently for the past three years as those seniors before me have received their last academic banquet, last game on the field, and last bow on the stage, all with the expectation that it would one day be my turn to be recognized. For myself and my peers nationwide, we will never get these opportunities. Those final moments and expectations have been stripped away by a deadly pandemic. Personally, I have had to grieve the loss of these expectations, to grieve the loss of the memories I will never get the chance to make.

The silver lining to this unfortunate situation is knowing that I’m not alone in working through my grief. Jennifer Folsom of NBC News interviewed parents of high school seniors nationwide. Kelly Funk, a mother in Leavenworth, Kansas, was one of the interviewees. “She’s mad, she’s just very angry,” is what Funk noted of her daughter’s mental state in processing this situation. In my own life, I have noticed the same situation with my friends, as they have had to find ways to cope with the loss of their final months of high school.

Nationwide, high-school seniors have discovered innovative ways to turn this grief into positive action, uplifting themselves and the community surrounding them. One of these individuals is Plant High School senior Alexis Perno, who was devastated over missing her Senior Prom. Jillian Ramos of ABC Action News reports that Perno said, “You know I was definitely upset over prom, but I cried about it for a few days and I moved on.” For Perno, moving on looks like having a photoshoot, with corsage and all, backyard in her prom dress. She took photos with her family members and pets, determined to still have some fun while self-isolating.  She decided to do take action, instead of just sitting in her anger. Another example of a high-school senior taking action is Gabrielle Luthy of Sayville, New York. Luthy has started The Fearless Project (@thefearlessprojectofficial) where she is “Igniting empowerment by letting go of fear one chat at a time.” She produces videos of where she overcomes her personal fears. These videos range from anything from simple footage of her dancing online, to poignant clips of her talking about controversial subjects, to create an open, powerful dialogue with her followers. Currently, Luthy is making a video compilation of high-school seniors worldwide sharing positivity and words of encouragement to their classmates. Yes, high-school seniors are devastated, but they are also empowered young adults who refuse to let a little social distancing ruin their twelve years of dedication and hard work.

Although this positive action is simply wonderful, my classmates and I are still left wondering, what will become of us in the future and who will help? How will living through a pandemic, as teenagers, change our view of the world? Will it make us more pessimistic in our future lives? How will we relate to our children one day, when they prepare for the high school experiences we never got the chance to have? We cannot show them photos from our Senior Prom or Graduation, as our parents did with us. But I truly believe that maybe, just maybe, we might have something even more powerful to impress upon our children one day. In the New York Times’ Student Opinion Questionnaire, Dyllan Rodas from Terra Linda High School shares that “After reflecting on these past few weeks, I realize how much I take for granted. The simple acts of seeing my friends, going to school, and eating out have become much more meaningful to me, as I now know life without them.” There is no doubt that this pandemic will have a drastic effect on the Class of 2020 for the remainder of their lives. As Rodas states, we “now know life without”. I believe that from this moment onward we will live life to the fullest extent, because we know what it is like to lose it. I am confident in predicting that as adults we will spend more time consciously experiencing life in the moment, with our friends, our families, and our coworkers. We now know that it is an immense privilege to sit in a coffeeshop, go to the library, or simply play a game of frisbee in the park with our friends. To put it simply, I believe we will leave this quarantine better people than we entered it. Although we may not have a typical high-school story, I believe we can have an atypical future, in the best way possible.

What do we ask of our teachers, you may be wondering? We simply ask for you to recognize the same truth that we have. As high-school senior Dyllan Rodas poignantly said, “I realize(d) how much I took for granted.” This simply cannot be ‘that one annoying semester where you had to teach online’. As a global, interconnected society dealing with a deadly pandemic, we can no longer take any moment for granted.  When you get back in the classroom in a few months, I speak for the entire Class of 2020 when I implore you to appreciate every single moment you have with your students. You never know when it could be your last. We certainly didn’t on March 13. Live in gratitude for every time that you spill your perfect cup of coffee, every time that you sit through a frustrating staff meeting, every time that a student asks you the same question a hundred times, and every time that you have to stay up through the late hours of the night grading essays. The Class of 2020 is learning the hard way that every single moment of life is worth living to the fullest, and we truly hope you will recognize that as well.

Megan Robertson
About Megan Robertson

Megan is a performer, writer, and activist. She is currently double majoring in Performing Arts/Social Justice and Media Studies at The University of San Francisco.

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