NORWALK, Conn. — This was our year. Until it vanished.
2020 was to be the year of graduation ceremonies, of academic achievements recognized. A final ride of merriment – parties, proms, and endless fun – before venturing into the unknown of post-secondary education, or joining the global workforce.
But for the 414 students in the graduating class of 2020 at Brien McMahon High School, myself included, that rite of passage has evaporated. Our senior year dreams have been crushed – a victim of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is very likely that the following events will be cancelled, if they haven’t already: Spring Break… Senior Internships… Senior Trip… Senior Prom,” BMHS Vice Principal Qadir Abdus-Salaam informed students in a March 25 email. “We are all very sad about these current events during your senior year. I wish I could snap my fingers and make this all go away.”
Abdus-Salaam’s email followed an announcement by Gov. Ned Lamont that all Connecticut school districts must close until at least April 20 to help slow the pandemic’s spread.
The cancellation of senior year events is of course trivial compared to the far larger economic, social, and public health devastation caused to our country by the virus – including a potential toll of illness and death in the hundreds of thousands.
Still, the disappointment is very real among the class of 2020 and our families over the rapid evaporation of long-planned graduation year plans.
“Coronavirus has essentially halted my life,” says BMHS senior Max Parizot. “All of the extracurricular activities and social events that kept me occupied have ceased.”
The pain extends beyond McMahon’s senior class. The school’s theatrical production of Les Misérables was cut short, after a single weekend. In the realm of high school sports, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) has cancelled the remainder of its winter sports championship tournament, and delayed indefinitely the beginning of the spring sports season. The delays and cancellations deprive McMahon seniors of their last opportunity to participate in their sport or performance, perhaps for the rest of their life.
Academically, though school buildings are closed, class sessions continue, with students participating online from home. At Brien McMahon, the primary technological tools for facilitating classwork include Google Classroom, a free web service allowing online creation, completion and grading of assignments, and video-conferencing programs, such as Google Meets and Zoom.
“I believe that schools and teachers are finally grasping digital learning after a week and a half,” says Parizot. “I’m sure that by the end of the school year, students and teachers… (will) have learned quite a lot.”
Outside of class, a variety of social media platforms, such as Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, and audio and visual communication services such as Discord and FaceTime, have proved critical in allowing students to remain social despite being confined to their homes.
I myself use several of these platforms and services. As much as I love my family, it is nonetheless important to directly communicate with my peers. Using these channels, we are all able to empathize with each other’s respective predicaments. We share our common fears over the economy, the health of our relatives, and our educational future.
“I am afraid mostly that college will be impacted. I don’t want to spend my first semester online, and I especially don’t want to pay full tuition for online college,” said Owen McClung, a friend and fellow senior.
McClung is not the only member of the class of 2020 to worry about the pandemic’s impact on college. Shirley Madera, another senior, worries about the impact of the virus on her college decision. “I feel very impacted. Along with all the amazing events and opportunities I lost during this pandemic, I was unable to go to many college interviews and opportunities, which is very unfortunate.”
For my senior classmates who plan to enter the job market, rather than attend college, the immediate future is even more stark. They face one of the worst labor markets in U.S. history – tens of thousands of businesses suddenly closed, countless employees turned out of work, and no chance to even look for work in person.
And I cannot help but think of the well-being of other students, both nationwide and in the Norwalk community, particularly the under-served. On Thursday, April 2, the BMHS administration plans to distribute the last of school-issued Chromebooks to disadvantaged students in order to continue their digital learning.
“The handoff will take place on the patio in front of the building, as no one is permitted inside,” wrote Principal Scott Hurwitz in a school-wide email. According to a recent press release by Norwalk Public Schools, school buildings are presently being sanitized extensively by “outside firms.”
The City of Norwalk additionally announced that all recreational fields, courts and playgrounds are closed to the public. This restriction of access follows a recent wave of student gatherings on school fields. “We cannot emphasize enough to avoid group activities at this time. We know children need exercise and time outdoors. However, these activities should take place around the home and must be done following social distancing guidelines as directed by the CDC,” wrote Norwalk Public Schools.
Public socializing by Norwalk students during the pandemic has sometimes posed a risk to the community. But it is difficult to blame students for wanting exercise, recreation and social contact, especially high school seniors.
The tradition of senior year has long been romanticized and extensively ingrained in popular culture – including by our parents, and their parents before them. That’s because it’s more than student fun and games. The tradition is also a celebration of the commitment to education by our families, and by the entire community. For my graduating class, that vision has been shattered.
It may not be too late to salvage some of our senior class’s keystone events. But that will require cooperation of the entire Norwalk community. Please – for the greater health of society, the economy, your relatives, friends and neighbors, and for the sake of us seniors – practice social distancing in order to combat this terrible virus.
We must maintain hope that some semblance of normalcy will return in the near future – and that my graduating class and those that follow will eventually be able to get a taste of the experiences we have spent years looking forward to.