Rogue Valley Seniors Reflect on the Abrupt End to their High School Careers
Most of us can relate to the feeling of lost normalcy lately—leaving home without a face mask, or socializing with friends without a computer, for example. But while these forlorn conveniences rightfully elicit grief, there’s one group of people that’s also mourning the loss of something much bigger: closure.
Yes, for high school seniors, a true feeling of closure to their secondary education has become one of the many moments that never were. As a global pandemic began rerouting life in early March, Jackson County students finished a normal school day that, unbeknownst to them, would end up being their last. Classes shifted online, sports were canceled, and special traditions that make the final months of high school significant became collateral damage of COVID-19.
“The day they made the announcement that school was canceled almost felt unreal,” said Michael Briggs, Phoenix High School senior. “I got home and just started playing computer games to distract myself and avoid the crushing feeling I started having after thinking about it.”
Ashland High School Co-Student Body President Sequoia Jacobson concurred.
“It was really disappointing knowing I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to everyone like I thought I would,” said Jacobson. “It’s just so crazy that these normal milestones are suddenly gone.”
Fellow Ashland senior, Ana Silva, shares in Jacobson’s reminiscing, adding: “In-person prom and all-night graduation party were both canceled, which was sad because they’re kind of like the finale of high school.”
Perhaps almost as shocking as the abrupt ending, some seniors now realize they actually enjoyed going to school – if nothing else, for the structure, routine, and connection it provides. Things that, unfortunately, even the most highly advanced technology simply cannot replace. This is especially noticeable for those like Jacobson who were active in sports or extracurriculars.
“I was a guitarist for the AHS Jazzband so several of our festivals were canceled, including the most notable Reno Jazz Festival,” he said. “This was the culmination of all our hard work and practicing so it’s really heartbreaking.”
Yet despite its undeniable shortcomings, technology has served to satisfy some semblance of the school experience, as districts turned to various modes of digitally based supplemental education to keep students occupied with both learning and routine.
“Teachers assigned homework online and some of my classes started Zoom meetings to stay visually engaged, which helped initially,” said Silva.
This sliver of structure became short-lived for many, however, following the state announcement that seniors with satisfactory grades could consider their school year complete.
“Teachers still have calls and post optional assignments if you’re bored or want to connect, but I haven’t felt the need to participate, Briggs said.
A shared perspective for most, and, let’s be honest – who can blame them?
“The first two weeks I attended every Zoom class to help make things as normal as possible,” said Jacobson. But when I knew I was good to graduate, I stopped going to most.”
Which begs the question – just what are these newly empowered students doing with their independence?
“I’ve been trying to use the time to be productive and better myself,” said Briggs, who is currently learning Hungarian, a language he likely wouldn’t have explored otherwise. “I’m also watching livestream videos of people playing games and playing computer games myself,” he adds.
Both Jacobson and Silva also increasingly turn to technology to meet their socialization-needs, connecting with online game nights, social media posts, and text exchanges that – as Silva puts it, “aren’t ideal, but are better than nothing at this point.”
Beyond the certain loss of many milestones lies the uncertain future of the year ahead, as college-bound seniors anxiously await updates on their schools’ plans and fear the scary reality of a tarnished senior year becoming an equally spoiled freshman year. As of now, Jacobson and Silva are both hoping for the best as they prepare for enrollment at Oberlin College and Umpqua Community College, respectively.
Briggs, on the other hand, is opting to join the workforce to develop his skills and get some experience under his belt before hopefully moving to Europe—an ambition that brings its own set of uncertainties.
“If it weren’t for this pandemic, I would be applying for jobs and starting to save money for travel,” he said. “Now I feel like I’m just waiting for my life to begin, and that’s depressing.”
Despite the disappointment of missed moments and traditions, Jacobson, Briggs, and Silva also recognize this situation as a “character-builder”, displaying refreshing maturity as they remember the bigger, more positive picture.
“It’s hard to feel a real sense of closure, but I’m also trying to see this in the best light possible,” said Jacobson. “We finished high school, and that’s something to be happy about.”
Briggs adds, “There are things you can’t control in life and this virus is one that’s changed my life forever; but I know when I’m older I’ll look back and see how it shaped me.”
Wise words we can all apply as we acknowledge that, although we may never fully return to the normalcy that once was, who’s to say the new normal can’t be even better?