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'It Did Not Feel Like Senior Year At All': How The Pandemic Impacted High Schoolers Heading To College

An image of seniors reuniting with friends before graduation at Christopher Columbus High School
Daniel A. Varela
/
Miami Herald
Seniors reunite with friends before the Christopher Columbus High School senior graduation ceremony at Homestead-Miami Speedway, in Homestead, Florida on Saturday, June 20, 2020.

This year was unlike any other for thousands of high school seniors across South Florida.

Many seniors spent the entirety of this academic year online. The usual classroom ruckus happened through screens, which probably meant a lot less of those serendipitous moments where inevitably you get to know each other.

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Some students did experience the classroom in person. Still, it was far from normal with masks and social distance.

Major celebratory events like prom and graduation were either cancelled or put together with COVID-19 guidelines, which are important but could take some of the fun out of it.

"It did not feel like a senior year at all," said Jeremy Acaba, a senior student from Hollywood Hills High School. "It’s really different."

WLRN’s Luis Hernandez spoke with a panel of high school seniors across South Florida about what this past year has been like. Acaba was part of a panel, along with Erica Tunay from Key West High School, and Elyse Thomas from School of Advanced Studies-Wolfson Campus.

The segment was co-hosted by WLRN Sundial intern Suria Rimer, a senior at MAST@FIU Biscayne Bay Campus.

This excerpt of the conversation has been edited for clarity.

WLRN (RIMER): I’m a high school senior, just like you guys are, and definitely think so much of the senior excitement is about events like prom, field trips and graduation. What did these events look like for you this year?

JeremyAcaba_HSgrad_05312021.png
Courtesy of Jeremy Acaba
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Jeremy Acaba is graduating from Hollywood Hills High School in 2021. He will be studying at American University in the fall.

ACABA: Our prom was completely canceled. Instead of a prom, we had a senior picnic, which was not really an alternative … We just met at our football stadium and then had a little picnic with everybody and we played some games. I guess that's something. As for our graduation, we are having it in person, thankfully, but only two guests can go and it's also at another school's gym. So the location is not the best, but it's something.

THOMAS: We did have a drive-through Academic Signing Day. Everyone came in their cars and some people decorated their cars with the colors of their school. We announced where we were going [to colleges] and everyone was cheering us on. That was really nice.

TUNAY: We were able to have prom, which just happened two days ago, and our graduation is still happening as well, which I'm excited for.

WLRN (HERNANDEZ): This pandemic has taken a toll on everybody, our mental health and all the challenges that we face. Did you feel you had the support you needed from the school and your teachers?

THOMAS: I think I did from my school and just my friends and family, in general, are a wonderful support system. [The school] always made it clear the resources that are available to us and to always reach out if we ever feel like we need to. I do think that I didn't take as much advantage of those resources simply because I'm very reserved and I don't really like to talk about personal issues with other people, but they were definitely there and I always knew that I was supported and cared for.

ElyseThomas_HSgrad_05312021.png
Courtesy of Elyse Thomas
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Elyse Thomas is graduating high school in 2021 from the School of Advanced Studies-Wolfson Campus. She will be continuing her education at Yale University.

TUNAY: In my personal experience, they didn't really help. To be honest, it was kind of hard to communicate with our teachers because it's like we don't really know them like that, because usually when you're in a classroom, you're able to talk to your teacher and get to know each other and how things work. But it was just harder this year to do that.

EricaTunay_HSgrad_05312021.png
Courtesy of Erica Tunay
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Erica Tunay graduates from Key West High School in 2021. She will be attending the University of Central Florida in the fall.

ACABA: Online school just consisted of just a whole bunch of, like, little squares [on the virtual school platform] with no pictures or no photos or anything. So it was really hard to communicate with teachers. Luckily, I knew mine.

WLRN (RIMER): We're all moving on to the next stage of our life, graduating high school and going to college. If you could give one piece of advice to your freshman self, knowing what you know now, having experienced the pandemic, what would it be?

THOMAS: I would tell freshman year me that it's not that serious. During this pandemic, I realized that a lot of the things I was stressed about weren't as deep as I thought they were. And, I'll end up being OK. Everything happens for a reason and everything will work out.

TUNAY: I would tell my freshman self to not be scared and to go out of her comfort zone — which has taught me that it's okay to do what you want to do and not what someone else wants to do.

ACABA: I would agree with Erica on the get out of your shell type of thing, because it took me almost three years to learn how to do that, definitely getting a head start on that would be amazing. Also, just like sticking to a schedule, making sure that I'm doing what I need to be doing and not procrastinating as much.

WLRN(HERNANDEZ): Suria, let me turn that question on you. What's the advice you’d give your freshman self?

RIMER: Do the things that you want to do. Don't do them because you think they’ll fit a college resume or because you think that's what you're supposed to do. If you end up doing the things you love you’ll be good at it. Like for me, I love working at WLRN Sundial and the work I do is good because I’m proud of it. I’d also tell my freshman year self that she isn't going to go into STEM ... so she needs to stop stressing about that.