March 2020, while students were enjoying or anticipating their spring school break, the world itself seemed to come to a slow motion stop in a matter of hours. One minute the virus was in Asia, then Europe, then seemingly overnight cases were in every state in America. Schools went remote, events and activities cancelled, humans were separated from each other and told “It’s for your own good”. Everyone on earth with connections beyond their family felt this pandemic’s effects. The experience of some was not much impacted, but others are feeling great fallout.
Remember senior year of high school; What were things that you look back on fondly? The experiences of the graduating class of 2020 are unlike any that came before them. Typically filled with a mix of excitement for the future and nostalgia for the past, instead was replaced with anxiety, confusion and isolation. At a time where students should be celebrating achievements, they were in mandated remoteness. All of the well earned praise for their accomplishments was deferred, then cancelled, rescheduled and cancelled again, never to be readdressed.
Friday before spring break, for Brandon Kirmer, was the last day of in person instruction for the 2020 school year. He remembers the classes as emptier than usual, many students getting a jump on their spring break plans. Brandon wouldn’t find out until later that school wouldn’t resume as planned after break – “I couldn’t believe it at first”
Anger and depression, both emotions would describe the response to cancellations. The loss has been reported by some to be akin to losing a loved one. While the actuality of a physical loss is not true, conceptually the fallout is similar. When you suddenly lose a connection without the comfort of a goodbye, you grieve. Though losing a parent, grandparent, cousin, sister, brother is devastating and unmatched, the reality is that students lost more than just their friends during this shut down. For starters, a routine was destroyed. Our students have sports, theater, work, volunteering, driving, parties, book clubs, youth group and so on that brings them joy. For some, something as seemingly mundane as school is a safe haven; an escape from home and family, if even just for the desire of independence. The shut down meant students were losing interactions with friends who loved and inspired them, as well as teachers and staff who have been their mentors.
At first, the shut down was a welcome change from the non-stop go go go our students constantly find themselves in. “I had gotten so caught up in life and all the events of everything I was involved with, that it felt pretty good to press the breaks on everything. It gave me some time to breathe for once. I was able to spend more time with my family. This is something that I really cherish, especially since college was around the corner. I was able to spend more time before college with my family than any other normal high school senior.”
It was almost refreshing, at the beginning of course.-Brandon Kirmer
The activities that kept our students busy are as varied as they are, but one thing that seems to be common is that everyone was attempting to find a new normal. Some activities were moved online that helped keep students connected such as school, practices, youth group, church services, etc. Activities such as the ones listed offered students an opportunity to talk about what they are going through; “I would say [the activities] all definitely helped with the feeling of loss. I was able to talk through things with other people and realize that I wasn’t alone with how I felt.”
All of these connections produced a fall out of sorts. The way we stay connected to people who we can’t be physically present with is through social media. The constant state of communication pushed people of all ages towards anxiety episodes. A human mind and emotions are only able to handle so much input before it starts to feel overwhelmed. The experiences of scrolling through social media with the intention of seeing friends and family was instead peppered with articles, videos, photos, health warnings, etc all basically saying the world is in a bad way. What soon follows fear is anger and blame and hate. It didn’t take long before all of the news coverage of facts began to be replaced with stats that “prove” responsibility and negligence and lies. At a time where people are already divided physically, there was forming a mental divide.
The final blow for many graduating seniors was the announcement of the official cancellation of the graduation service. “It felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me again when in-person graduation was canceled at the last second after being rescheduled later in the summer.” Our students strived to experience, they worked incredibly hard; long nights and days to graduate and while they did graduate, they weren’t able to experience it with the joy and love that was promised to them 4 years ago.
Find comfort in the patience and love of our students; “I’m okay with giving up my experiences that I should’ve had this year. Just as long as we can work together to make sure we can all go back to normal next year.” Pray for our graduating seniors as they continue to persevere and make their mark at each college they have chosen to attend.