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What Does The Future Hold For The High School Graduating Class Of 2020?

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For high school seniors across South Florida, the usually memorable last few months of their final school year were cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic, as schools shut down their campuses.

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Prom suits and dresses were purchased and not worn. Plans to attend homecoming did not happen. Parents’ excitement to watch their children walk on stage and accept their diplomas will not happen as imagined.

Another subject of uncertainty? College.

Many graduating seniors plan to attend college in the fall, including out-of-state schools. But fear of travel, and the continuing spread of COVID-19, has caused doubt for students and parents about whether starting college in August is a good idea.

According to admissions coach and former Miami Herald education reporter Dave Marcus, some students may even be forced into a gap year.

"Right now, frankly, we don’t have the testing and tracing and screening mechanisms," said Marcus. “I think that that’s why it’s a time to discuss at least, just having a pause for a semester or for a year.”

A senior at Miami Southridge Senior High, Cedric Sawyer, has plans to attend the University of Florida. He is a current member of the Sandy Hook National Youth Advisory Board and Youth Advisory Committee, where he advocates for school violence prevention.

Ana Viveros is a senior at the New World School of the Arts where she is involved in dancing and theater. She has danced professionally with the International Hustle and Salsa Congress and plans to go to Berklee College of Music.

They joined Marcus on Sundial to discuss their experiences and the uncertainty many families are facing right now.

WLRN: Cedric, you planned on going to the University of Florida. You want to, but are you?

CEDRIC: Yes, I am. I mean, I plan on going to the University of Florida. I got accepted. It seems as if I have a full ride there. But through Miami Dade College and its enrollment program, I've already received my associates in criminology this past April. So my experience is going to be cut short if fall is going to be delayed, and I'd probably rather stay down here if that's going to be that [fully remote], to be essential of the time being and not to waste any money or effort to go up.

I still feel like there would be an experience within the quarantine experience that would be in Gainesville. As far as going up there, I still plan on being safe and actually quarantining myself and isolating myself on campus. But I still want to, you know, take advantage of being in a new environment, actually having some sort of college experience rather than staying here and not really doing much.

Ana, you are going to Berklee School of Music. You're going up to Boston, and that is one of the hardest hit areas for coronavirus. You also have an extra risk because of your mother.

ANA: Both my mother and my grandmother are immunosuppressed. My grandmother has Parkinson's and my mom has ankylosing spondylitis. I mean, this whole coronavirus situation has definitely put a huge stress in terms of college. Because, yeah, Boston is kind of an epicenter for COVID and everything that's going on right now. There's definitely been the concerns of how to keep my mother safe and ensure that everyone is healthy if campus is open in the fall.

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Credit Ana Riveros
Ana Viveros with a classmate at New World School of the Arts.

That's definitely been a point of deliberation for me over going. I mean, it's just so hard, right? Because we've all gone through the college process, and we've spent months working out financials. And for me, there's an additional audition process. So I actually spent the past few months traveling and doing auditions in Chicago and New York and things like that. So there's been this whole, kind of, build up to this moment. And it's difficult to kind of weigh the pros and cons then, you know, make sure that you're keeping your loved ones safe and what's the sacrifice of going. If it is open, I will be attending. I likely have to work out whether I would stay with someone else over winter break, if I would come home or if I would stay with someone in Boston or what the situation would be. Whatever is, you know, at that moment, the safest and in the best interests of my family. It's kind of a day-by-day situation.

Dave, what do you think is going to happen to higher education as we move forward? There are a lot of concerns for not just students, but for the institutions.

DAVE: I'm very worried about it. First of all, higher education, besides being so important to advancing everybody from every background in this country, faces an economic reality. It's a 600 billion dollar industry, which keeps a lot of communities afloat. And it's the main employer in many, many places. I'm very worried about some smaller schools with small endowments going out of business.

I will say, though, Ana and Cedric you're so inspiring. And what I just heard are like the makings of essays for juniors and sophomores and everybody else who is applying to college. The fact that you are going to be part of the generation that finds us vaccines, that brings this divided country together, it helps us move on. Education is really important. It might mean that some students delay, but ultimately higher ed colleges will go on. And I hope that they'll survive, that the ones with less money will survive.

During her time at Florida International University, where she recently earned a B.S. in Journalism, Sherrilyn Cabrera interned for the South Florida News Service - a digital journalism platform where stories are written, photographed and edited by FIU students. As part of her senior project, she reported on the influx of Puerto Ricans who migrated to Florida after Hurricane Maria, and the potential impact on the November 2018 midterm elections.