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Class of 2021 reflects on two years of high school in a pandemic
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THE PROS AND CONS OF LEARNING ALONE

Class of 2021 reflects on two years of high school in a pandemic

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Seniors graduate from high school every year, and every class is special, but there has been no group like the Class of 2021.

These young men and women had to navigate the challenges of being high school students and teenagers in the middle of the worst pandemic in more than a century.

Some members of the Class of 2021 left their schools in March 2020 and have never been back. For those who did go back, school was different from what they remembered.

But they figured out how to learn and maintain their friendships through a computer screen, and they’re still hopeful about what the future holds.

Here, seniors from four local school divisions reflect on two years of high school during a pandemic.

Oluwatamilore (Tami) Owolabi, North Stafford High School, Stafford

What has been the hardest part of experiencing your last years of high school during the pandemic?

Losing the connection I had with my classmates. Right before COVID happened, I felt like the class of 2021 was just starting to get close and build relationships with each other but COVID made it difficult to keep in touch.

What has been something good that has come out of it?

I’ve definitely found myself during the pandemic. I’m usually a busy person, so before the pandemic I never took the time to stop and think about my life.

What are you proudest of from the past two years?

My proudest moment from the past two years would be getting my college and scholarship applications turned in. I had a really hard time motivating myself to get it done at first, but once I got rolling, I couldn’t stop.

What are you most looking forward to when things are “back to normal?”

I’m most looking forward to being able to socialize and meet new people. It’s been a boring year locked up in my house and I miss the social aspect of going to school and out with friends.

What are your plans for next year?

I plan on attending the University of Pennsylvania and I’ll be studying entrepreneurship at the Wharton School.

Amirah Ahmed

, Chancellor High School, Spotsylvania

What has been the hardest part of experiencing your last years of high school during the pandemic?

Not being able to celebrate the token nostalgia and achievements that accompany the far end of adolescence. We have spent so much of our time together, and it was incredibly difficult to be isolated from our class and not be able to make those memories that are essential to the high school experience.

What has been something good that has come out of it?

The communication skills and mental strength we were forced to develop in lieu of in-person interaction. While we were more separated than ever, the pandemic made developing strong communication habits a must so that we could maintain our friendships, relationships, and professional connections. Many of us also learned how to find peace being alone during this time, which I think has allowed us to better understand ourselves when working independently.

What are you proudest of from the past two years?

I am proudest of my successful college application process. Applying to college by yourself without as much hands-on support is very daunting, but I’m so proud of myself for navigating the process well. I am beyond proud of how the class of 2021 has handled it, and we’re all going on to do such amazing things.

What are you most looking forward to when things are “back to normal?”

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The simple things: giving a warm smile to the coffee shop barista (that they can actually see without a face mask) or being able to go to a sports practice or event without completing extensive tracing surveys are things that make me excited to get back to normal.

What are your plans for next year?

I will be attending American University in Washington, D.C., to major in political science and Arabic with a minor in economics on a pre-law track.

Andrew J. Dale

, King George High School

What has been the hardest part of experiencing your last years of high school during the pandemic?

Before entering the public school system, I was homeschooled. One of the few reasons for my transition from homeschooling to KGHS was the social aspect. I have high praise for all the teachers and staff at KGHS and I have many friends from the school that I socialize with on a day-to-day basis. Not only was coping with the lack of a social aspect difficult, but the learning environment was, as well. Although I maintained fairly high grades, receiving all As in each of my courses, I still ingest information more effectively in a hands-on environment and unfortunately, there was hardly any of that in the virtual learning system.

What has been something good that has come out of it?

Canvas (a digital learning platform). At first, and I cannot lie, I was not a fan of it. However, once I had ventured past my stubbornness and actually put my head down and attempted to figure out how the system worked, it was extremely simple to use. All of my assignments are placed in front of my eyes and can be completed with the tip of my fingers. For the sake of future generations of high school students, I hope it stays or at least a version similar, anyways.

What are you proudest of from the past two years?

The most proud I have ever been, and my parents definitely were as well, was when I told my future soccer coach over the phone that I would be committing to his team and university, VMI. The moment I had accepted my offer, I could feel the excitement and how pleased my parents were, without even having to turn around. When I put down the phone, the love and positivity from my parents that evening is truly a feeling I will cherish forever.

What are you most looking forward to when things are “back to normal?”

Socializing and not having to add a mask on the list of things I tend to forget.

What are your plans for next year?

I plan on attending Virginia Military Institute where I will be majoring in International Studies/Political Science. I will also be competing with the men’s soccer program.

Monzerrath Sandoval, James Monroe High School, Fredericksburg

What has been the hardest part of experiencing your last years of high school during the pandemic?

Making the transition to online school. It was easier to pretend as though school was optional and a lot easier to procrastinate. I often found myself not being engaged in school like I had been in previous years. I felt as though it was me against my work instead of me actually learning, and oftentimes I felt like I couldn’t even reach out to my own teachers. I was afraid that they thought of me as a terrible student and that everything I worked for was for nothing because I took it away from myself. It was a time where I had to hold on to the tiniest bit of confidence I had in order to succeed, even if I was missing a big part of who I am.

What has been something good that has come out of it?

The best thing to come out of the pandemic was the experience. I had a lot of time to work on myself and my hobbies that I previously didn’t have before. Before this year, I didn’t know what a break was and was overworking myself too much. Despite all of the hardships, I learned problem-solving skills that are crucial to my being and the rest of my life. Although I constantly felt as though I was taking one step forward and three steps back, that made every step forward so much more rewarding. It was very not good when I was going through it, but it did help me grow as a person and become stronger both mentally and emotionally.

What are you proudest of from the past two years?

Of course I am proud of graduating with a high GPA, having a job during the pandemic, and going to an Ivy League school, but truthfully I am most proud of simply making it across the finish line. Regardless of my other accolades and achievements, there were plenty of times during the semester I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to graduate on time. My teachers, advisors, and I worked down to the very wire to make sure I was able to graduate, even when it took me working for 13 straight hours in order to finish and it took them having to grade all that work before the deadline. A lot went into the past two years, but I get to have my diploma, and my degree from Germanna, as a physical representation of all the hard work that went into it, and that goes beyond the past two years and even beyond high school. It goes all the way back to me starting my first day of kindergarten and learning how to write my own name.

What are you most looking forward to when things are “back to normal?”

Seeing people’s faces again. Zoom calls will never equate to an in-person conversation, and a socially distanced conversation with masks on isn’t quite the same either. A lot of the times through this pandemic, I felt as though I was alone and that was due in large part to the distance. It was a lot easier to be vulnerable and share what was going on when I could look at someone, get a hug, and have the conversation. It wasn’t the same to sit in my dark room and try to talk about my feelings.

What are your plans for next year?

My plans are to attend Dartmouth College in the fall as a government major. I later plan to apply to law school after my undergraduate studies to seek a future in immigration law. Go Big Green!

Adele Uphaus–Conner: 540/735-1973

auphaus@freelancestar.com

@flsadele

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