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For high school seniors, a lost year

Brien McMahon High School senior Jackson Dino, outside the closed school. (Contributed)

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.

11 comments

Concerned Taxpayer April 2, 2020 at 3:06 am

It’s very unfortunate for the seniors, keep your heads held high, life has been cushy for a while. As hard as it is, it’s a great awakening to the world we all live in. Nothing can make up for what’s been lost. You’ll be better off having gone through this in the long run. Sadly, it’s probably not the last coronavirus we’ll see. Safety first kids.

Johannes Enders April 2, 2020 at 6:55 am

kudos to the author for realizing that that the issues discussed here are trivial in the context of the pandemic. That doesn’t change the fact that the piece is tone deaf.
10 people dead, we haven’t even started to see the impact in nursing homes which is sure to come, and the author cares to complain about a missed sports season …
I’d prefer to read about the seniors organizing food delivery to health care workers in sequestration/quarantine.

Babar Sheikh April 2, 2020 at 8:51 am

Well said. Senior year is special and I hope you all get to make up for it somehow in the future. Even if not, trust me, there’s plenty more special years ahead for you guys. Stay positive.

Jeffry Spahr April 2, 2020 at 9:36 am

This impacts college seniors as well. My daughter is a Senior at UConn and has been told that her graduation, for which she worked so hard, has been canceled. Not only that, but they have kicked them off-campus and they have no personal contact with their friends. Rather than enjoying the last weeks of college life with all its fun, she is sitting at home at our house. So sad.

Sam April 2, 2020 at 3:15 pm

Let me tell you something kid- it’s an overhyped ritual and you even remember most it in a few years. Just stay safe and sound. Life will get back to normal again

Paul A. April 2, 2020 at 7:22 pm

I feel for you Jackson, but my words cannot erase the reality of today. I graduated many years ago from BMHS and can’t even pretend to imagine what you HS seniors are experiencing these days.

As an older person, I’m using this down time to reset my priorities and check on my health and family. I appreciate the young people, like yourself, who are insightful and proactive enough to speak out, and to teach others, not just other young people, the importance of practicing physical distancing for just a short period of time. You might not be surprised, but the few times I have left my house the last couple of weeks, I have noticed many older folks are also out in the community as if nothing is going on.

My hope is that there will be enough critical thinkers in your generation to stave off the attitude of us vs. them that has arose over the past few years. We need young people to take charge now more than ever. I think we have clearly seen the damage cause by my generation of boomers and older that are now in charge of politics, business and the media.

From the rapidly increasing destruction of our Earth’s climate to the health care crisis we are moving into now, we have seen men and women from my generation continuing to profit from many other’s suffering. I won’t bore you with all the other issues, you are quite aware I’m sure.

If you can encourage, from right here in Norwalk, the use of social networking for the positive good, I suggest you do it now. We had different issues in the 70’s but actually remarkably similar. We had a meltdown at a nuclear reactor just a short distance away in PA. I remember a huge anti-nuke rally I joined in New York City. We knew at that point that nukes, greenhouse gasses and fossil fuels were not the healthy way for us to move forward without destroying the planet but who would really listen to our concerns. Certainly not the generation ahead of us. Certainly not the large industries lobbying the government. We were foiled at every step by the previous generations. And now years later we have the same issues, but worse, and I’m afraid if you all don’t take firm and decisive action now, then your hopes and dreams of a return to some semblance of normalcy will be dashed by the powers that be.

As you note, you have these social networks that we never dreamed of. You can communicate and organize many people without having to travel anywhere. It’s time for all you young folks to figure out how to take charge and wrestle the power away from the old-timers who would just like you all to “leave well enough alone.” Well guess what, it’s not well enough at all.

I appreciate your words and emotions and really hope to see you as a future leader for our community, our state and our country. This down time could be spent just looking a social influencer with their pretty clothes and cute dogs or you could all be out there organizing for a better future for you all. Use this time productively for your generation’s success and your future.

If what you used to do to “keep occupied” is not within reach, then it may mean having to change your plans to reach your dreams. Many of you can run for local and state office and try to show other young people the importance of democracy for your continued freedom!

Others young people could take on the role of true journalists. The more you work towards running the country and exposing the reality of our collective situation now, the better chances you will have to live not only a good life but one very aligned with what your dreams are.

I’m hoping I’m not coming across as scolding or condescending because the reality is, The Future Is Yours! Don’t let anyone try to squash your dreams. Think big, demand to be heard and don’t ever quit. It may seem daunting for a young person to imagine they can make a change, and it is, but NOW is the time. I wish you success and truly hope you a have a good life and the experiences you have in the future more than make up for the recent loss of expected and anticipated activities.

Paul

Paul A. April 2, 2020 at 7:29 pm

Just a quick follow up. The comment from Sam, addressing you as “kid” and minimizing this situation should not only anger you for his arrogance, lack of empathy and Trumpian minimizing, but should also motivate you to read my comments again and take immediate action. Way too many gullible and uninformed people in this country will try to drag you down. Its started already right here. I’m sure he’ll reply and say it was a joke or some other nonsense. Be strong, I got faith in you and I have no clue who you are!! Good fortunes young man. Lead on!

Brian Anderson April 3, 2020 at 11:41 pm

Wonderfully written. I fully empathize with you. If I were in your shoes, I would be horribly disappointed. As a senior in high school, the 9 months between second semester and graduation to a job or to college should be some of the most fun and carefree moments of your life. Now, those moments have been stolen by a confusing virus. I pray you give yourselves a moment, when the virus issues are over, to enjoy a period of carefree behavior if possible. That is an essential part of youth.

Norm Jenkins April 5, 2020 at 8:03 am

A well written piece by this clearly talented senior who seems to have his head in the right place. And yes, that means it’s ok for him to prioritize the events and celebrations that he mentions. He does acknowledge the gravity of the virus situation while offering us his classmates’ perspective — not a crime!

Adversity will only make you stronger.

(The senior class might consider Paul A for a graduation speaker.)

Steve Mann April 5, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Norm, put me down for a seat at that event. I’ve love to hear Paul A’s explanation of what “Trumpian minimizing” is, how it found relevance to this article, and why that summation led to a flat out insult to a commenter who offered, in his own language, an uplifting message to the writer. I’m all ears.

Steve Colarossi April 5, 2020 at 4:28 pm

Jackson- As Paul A. has indicated, your compassion for your classmates and recognition of the broader community needs in the time of covid19 resonates with many of us. You’ve expressed what many in national politics fail to grasp- that recognizing what you’ve lost does not mean that you would trade hundreds of senior citizen lives for the sake of a high school senior prom.
An empathetic, articulate and community-minded voice like yours is what we all need to guide us through the calamities my generation has perpetuated. No pressure.

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