Reflecting on Graduating in the COVID-19 Era

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Pictures from the 2020 high school graduation. Zvi only had her parents and two best friends since that was the most allowed.

With graduation just over a week away, it has me reflecting a lot about the whirlwind of going to school in the “COVID-19 era”.

For many of my peers in my college graduating class of 2024, we went through the same experience that changed our memories of high school forever. Our senior year got cut short due to the global pandemic and we were left with tainted memories of being in lockdown for the last two months of high school.

We were forced to be online after spring break and I never got to step back into the halls of the school I went to since I was in sixth grade. I never experienced going to my last prom, my last theatre production I was set to be directing, or even having people sign my yearbook for the final time.

Everything around that time was a blur for me. The last normal day that I remember was Friday, March 13 because that was the day I got my first tattoo. I wanted it to be special for whatever reason and 17-year-old me wanted to get one before I turned 18. I was so excited to come back after spring break to show my friends and teachers what I’d have on me forever, but that day never came.

The world officially shutdown two days later on March 15 and my break was extended a week since everyone thought that COVID was going to blow over. Once we learned that we were never going to go back to in-person classes, that’s when it really set in for me that all my lasts happened months prior or even during my junior year. I had to adapt to taking classes online and had some hope that I would see graduation day to walk across the stage.

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I got my diploma and other achievements from the year handed to me through my mom’s car window. Some of the teachers lined up with their cars to clap us out, but I never got to experience what my older friends did just a year prior where the entire school lined up to clap out the seniors. I felt like I never got a proper end to high school. Since then, I’ve felt that I’ve been stuck in that phase of my life even though I’ve come so far since then.

I eventually did get to walk across the graduation stage in July of 2020, but it still wasn’t the same as the previous years before me since it was on my high school’s football field. I had to sit six feet from everyone with a mask and I could only bring four people to my graduation so not everyone I wanted there to support me could be there. I walked across the stage when my name was called and didn’t get to shake my principal’s hand.

A month and a half later, I was starting college, but it still felt like I was in high school. High school was still lingering in the back of my mind constantly as I tried to remember the days before the pandemic. I longed to redo the past five months so I could experience everything I knew for four years just one last time.

In college, I did have more in-person classes than most since I was taking art classes. Having to keep a distance from my classmates and difficulty making new friends was my unenjoyable first taste of college. I hoped that I would’ve gotten closure to high school during that first year, but it just made me sadder because I was still seeing the class below me have experiences I never was able to complete. I felt stuck in a place that I couldn’t go back to and was holding onto something that would never happen for me.

As I progressed farther into college and I’m almost at the end of my last semester, I feel like I can finally have the closure I needed at the end of high school. Ending such an important part of adolescences in a pandemic, it showed me to not take the little things for granted anymore and to celebrate any victories in life. But, being able to walk across the stage with the recognition I deserve is closing a chapter of my life as I go into the next one.

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