Part three in a series.
The end of the school year in high school is filled with spirit weeks, prom, and for seniors, a graduation ceremony. So, when COVID-19 caused in-person classes to stop and postponed or cancelled events like prom and graduation, many students didn’t get the opportunity to finish out the year with the typical celebrations and traditions.
“Once it started to sink in, it actually [felt] a bit bittersweet, because on one hand it felt almost like summer break, but then you realize that you won’t be able to see your senior friends or interact with them the same as before,” said Megan Leung, a junior at McLean High School. “It’s just not the same over text or FaceTime as in a classroom or during practice.”
Initially, Virginia schools closed only briefly in mid-March, which gave some students hope that the school year would still end in person. As coronavirus continued to worsen in the state, however, schools closed their doors through the end of the semester.
“I was praying that the whole coronavirus situation in Virginia wouldn’t become as severe so that we could still have time for end-of-the-year traditions,” said Rachel Kim, a senior at James Madison High School from Vienna. She will be attending Georgia Tech in the fall. “However, coronavirus cases in Virginia only got worse and I soon realized my wish was unrealistic.”
“It was very upsetting,” said Tatum Chenen from Vienna, a senior at James Madison High School who will be attending the University of Mississippi in the fall. “Thinking about all those years leading up to this moment: getting excited for it and now knowing none of it will happen.”
Every school has their own traditions for the end of the year: grad night and toga day for seniors, spirit weeks, superlatives and class trips to Kings Dominion and Hershey Park, many of which now cannot happen.
“One of the traditions I personally feel the saddest about is our yearbook distribution day,” said Kim. “I was one of the editors-in-chief for our school’s yearbook this year, and I was really excited to dress in our yearbook shirts and hand out copies of our book to students at our school library like we always did every year.”
But despite the abnormal and difficult end to the year, some students have found ways to keep activities and traditions going through online and virtual means.
“It was definitely difficult not being able to interact with my teachers and classmates but luckily, we live in a time with lots of ways to stay connected with people online,” said Alexandra Dicks, a junior at James Madison High School.
Chenen and other seniors at James Madison High School worked on a video to celebrate prom together virtually, even though they’re apart. “We all made a video in our prom dresses, kind of like a getting ready video that was about 3 minutes long full of a bunch of girls in our grade,” said Chenen.
Some students are also planning on carrying out traditions later in the summer: Kim and her friends are planning on hosting a “fake prom” once it becomes safe to do so, still giving them the opportunity to have their last high school dance.
Teachers and school faculty are also working to make the end of the year special through virtual events and activities.
“James Madison is having a day of virtual celebration for seniors [with] events such as faculty messages to graduates, senior slideshow, and convocation,” said Kim. “Some of the teachers that my friends and I had have been sending us gifts and cards through mail, which is so sweet and another reminder that they’re really looking out for [us].”
“Our school is trying their best to make the end of the year as enjoyable online as it is in real life,” said Dicks. “They have been doing superlatives online for the seniors, as well as spirit weeks [and] people are still participating and making the most out of their last few days of school.”
Many students are hoping that classes will resume as normal in the fall, giving everyone an opportunity to hug friends in the hall and participate in school events again.
“It would be nice to be able to see friends in person after such a long time apart,” said Leung. “I definitely feel as though I took a lot of things for granted, so I’m certain I would want to make the most of next year.”