Seniors share memories of a school year like no other

Editor’s note: Viewpoint asked graduating seniors from the neighborhood to describe their experiences with the coronavirus pandemic. Here are their responses.

Olivia Ang-Olson of Ninth Avenue

I expected to close off my time in high school in June with a spring graduation ceremony, senior sunset, and an in-person goodbye to all my classmates and teachers. I never imagined that a random Thursday in March would be my last day at C.K. McClatchy High School.

In the first weeks of quarantine, I felt both disappointment and confusion. The stark change of environments and life pace – going from a busy student life to empty days stuck at home – made the adjustment to pandemic life quite difficult. However, in the last month I have found solace in talking with fellow youth who can identify with these feelings.

Online youth groups, Facetime calls, and social distancing walks offer closure at a time when so much has been stripped away.

Olivia Ang-Olson plans to attend Yale University. Photo/Joan Cusick

It’s easy to feel alone during this crisis; everyone thinks their life has been impacted uniquely more than anyone else’s. There are 2,600 graduating seniors in the Sacramento City Unified School District, and I’ve personally sought comfort in knowing that I’m not alone. Everyone’s plans, big or small, were turned upside down by this global curve ball.

We can all try to take this time to cherish memories from the past 12 years of our educational journeys, connect with classmates and friends who can share in what we’re feeling.

Focus on what we have, instead of what we don’t.

COVID-19 might take away a traditional graduation, but it can’t stop the immense accomplishment and pride we should all feel as graduating students and families of the Class of 2020.

Jacob Dean of Third Avenue

The first announcement was that school would close for a few days, to clean and plan. I tried to convince friends to bet on when we would actually resume, but no one was very enthusiastic. I thought eight weeks was a little too bold. Wuhan was already moving toward reopening, after all. Six weeks would be my prediction.

As the date of return marched deeper into the calendar, cancellation and virtualization rode in its wake. Senior projects were the first question. Online presentations, somehow? At least we had more time to perfect. No, too many projects relied on physical events. Classes, then? Welcome to Zoom! Somehow two hour-long calls feel as big as a seven-hour day. And it looks like no senior ball now. Much more disappointing than I expected.

Graduation is next to fall. Apparently the venue is still reserved? No, a virtual ceremony.

Now college is the question. The answer? “A highly flexible academic model that provides options for faculty to deliver courses in a variety of modalities.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? I am reassured.

Lindsey Wiser of Fifth Avenue

I’m graduating! Technically.

Finishing my undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University is definitely an accomplishment, but it would be nice to complete it back in Maryland.

I flew back to California for spring break, expecting to visit family for only a week, but instead I’ve stayed. My apartment is still in Maryland, I didn’t say goodbye to friends before leaving, and I even have a fish now living with a neighbor.

I’d hoped to be working in Washington, D.C. this summer before moving to Arizona for graduate school. Unfortunately, I won’t have those months to say a temporary goodbye to the place I’ve called my home for four years.

But I’ve been incredibly lucky during all this craziness. I have family with whom I can quarantine.

There are worse places to be stuck than beautiful California. I also have plenty of friends going through this same make-do graduation, so we’ve managed to hold virtual happy hours and calls to stay in contact as best we can.

The class of 2020 is still graduating! Congratulations to everyone, from pre-K to graduate school.

Camille Combrink of Fourth Avenue

During these unprecedented times, high school seniors missed out on activities and celebrations that in previous years were guaranteed for all graduating students. I personally looked forward to my second semester of senior year for reasons like Metro Swim Championships, a three-day Disneyland trip with the VAPA Orchestra, and attending a graduation present from myself: a concert of my favorite band, Senior Ball. And most importantly, walking the stage at graduation.

Instead, I found myself trapped at home, away from my friends, looking sadly at my classmates and teachers through Zoom meetings. The motivation to do any high school work was at an all-time low, especially because I already applied for summer college classes at Sacramento City College and was accepted onto the cross country team.

During my 12 years of schooling, I looked forward to so many things that were set to occur in the next few months. However, these activities and celebrations always seemed like a fantasy, too good to be true. So now that they’re not happening, I do not necessarily feel angry or sad. I just feel empty, like I was enjoying a good book but it ended badly.

Jacqueline Bonsignore of East Curtis Drive

I’m trying my hardest to view this extra time as a gift. It’s an opportunity for us graduates to calibrate where we are in our lives and careers right now, and figure out a plan of how to get where we want to be.

With my preferred industry almost completely shut down, I have a unique opportunity to focus on preparing and planting seeds so that when it opens back up, I can hit the ground running.

Aside from planning my career, I feel grateful and blessed to be in a situation where I can focus on returning to old hobbies – painting, writing, journaling, playing music or watching new movies. And even just taking this time to rest and reset after graduating.

On the bright side, this may be the closest any of us will get to retirement!

Shaina Zuber of Castro Way

From the comfort of the house where I lived from birth until leaving for college, I hit “Submit” on my final. And that was it – after 17 years of school, quite possibly the last final I would ever take. I texted my parents to tell them, then started making dinner.

Usually, we mark the end of finals for any semester with various rituals. At UC Berkeley, students gather under the Campanile to drink a beer after the last exams. That won’t happen this year. Nor will commencement, nor will awkward brunches before graduation with various parents who are strangers to each other. There were no Senior Spring happy hours and dinners with friends, imbued with the carefree feeling brought by imminent graduation.

We mark our accomplishments with rituals, large or small, formal or informal. My diploma will still carry as much weight even though I haven’t walked across a stage. Yet I still feel a sense of grief.

But if there’s a bright side, it’s the opportunity to find my own ways to celebrate. Sharing the post-finals dinner I made with my parents, calling my friends or planning a Zoom meetup with my extended family (many of whom couldn’t have come to my graduation anyway). All remind me that who we share our significant moments with is most important.

I look forward to the day when we celebrate in person. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for all the ways we’ve found to mark this moment right now.

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