WELL, it’s official, for me and all the other high school seniors in the commonwealth: Our last year of high school is over—with no fanfare, no “Congrats, grad!” helium balloons, no cap-and-gown ceremony. Just us lying on the floor with a bruised behind, because the metaphorical rug has indeed been swept out from under us.
For King George County, the last day of school was Friday, March 13th, which seems rather befitting, doesn’t it? When I sat down to write this, I was surprised to realize that some aspects of the day actually stood out in my mind, even though my school days—no matter how near or far in the past—typically blend together, eventually losing themselves in the brownish murkiness of my recollection of Mundane Things.
Retrospectively, I could say that I realized that something deep inside my subconscious told me that Friday the 13th would be notable for some then-unknown reason, but I probably only remember it because it was an early dismissal day.
Here is what I remember about the last moments of my last day of high school:
I was later than usual leaving the school that day. I didn’t utilize my usual “five minutes before the bell” senior dismissal privilege to bust out early. So it was 2:35 p.m. when I left my high school for the last time.
I was in a hurry to beat the line of bus traffic that gathered in the parking lot once school let out. I thought I was coming back the following Monday, so when I walked out the cafeteria doors to the parking lot to reach my car—parked in its usual spot—I didn’t think about anything except the weekend before me and the spectacular weather that greeted me.
When I got to the car, I popped my sunroof, rolled down the windows, and turned on the radio. Strange, now, that I don’t remember what song was playing. As I sat at the stoplight leaving the school, I looked around and noticed lots of other people had their windows down and music blaring, too.
I waved at my best friend as she waited in the other turning lane, and I remember thinking about how half days had a whole different vibe from “regular” school days. The light changed and I headed off down the road, eager to once again emerge into the world.
And—just like that— with the change of a stoplight from red to green, my high school experience was over.
As I look back on those last unknowingly-precious moments of my senior year, I can’t think of a much better way to end it. Sure, I would have liked to have known beforehand the value of that day—my last day. It would have been nice to say a few last goodbyes, to tell a few people how I felt about them, to maybe be a little nicer and a little more mindful than usual. A little less about myself and my hang-ups.
But, of course, I didn’t know I wouldn’t be coming back, and maybe that’s for the better. Graduation is a doorway to a student’s future, not their past, yet it seems that graduation and other so-called milestone occasions are spent on reflection and sentimentality (“remember when…”) rather than looking ahead, like re-reading the same chapter once you’ve finished it instead of turning the page to get to the next one.
So maybe it is best that I spent my last day of high school—my very own unique and personalized “graduation”—in my car, with my eyes pointed at the road in front of me, not in the rearview mirror. I graduated that day, alone and without realizing it, and so did all my friends and classmates who comprise King George High School’s Class of 2020.
Some of my fellow seniors feel cheated, I know, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t raise a tear when I learned that the last dwindling bit of my high school experience was very suddenly not there. But I can think of far worse things befalling generations of young people than an extended summer vacation, war being the one that comes to mind the most.
Roughly 50 years ago, 18-year-old boys fresh out of high school were being drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight a war most of them knew little about. Now that’s what I call being duped and screwed over; that is what the loss of innocence looks like.
Put it in the context of 100 years ago, and it was another war for a group of young people dubbed “the lost generation” who were cheated out of their natural life expectations.
The Class of 2020? We’re hardly the new lost generation. Maybe we won’t get a graduation ceremony, but nobody’s robbing us of our diplomas. Just because there’s no prom doesn’t mean we don’t have a future.
The coronavirus pandemic is terrible, yes. It’s scary. So much is uncertain, and it needs to be taken seriously. From what I’ve seen, America is doing the best it can, and this includes preventing the spread of the disease. If staying home from school and having the time to write, read books, and otherwise chill out is what “doing my part” looks like, then I am more than willing to do it.
Besides, who knows? With all of the self-quarantining and social distancing, things might go back to normal sooner than we think. We don’t know what the months to come will look like. All we can do is take the proper precautions now.
My mind keeps going back to the John Lennon song “Watching the Wheels,” particularly the lyric “I just had to let it go.” I think Lennon was referring to taking a step back from the fame that comes with being a music legend, but I’ve been seeing it in the context of my own humble life: letting go of the high school experience.
And the Class of 2020 really did have to let go. Governor Northam and the coronavirus said so.
We students are no longer riding on the merry-go-round that is high school, but maybe right now is everyone’s time to just sit and watch the wheels go round and round.
I know it is for me. And like John Lennon, I really love to watch ’em roll.
Anna-Marie Miller is a senior at King George High School.