I remember the exact moment when I found out my senior year was no longer going to play out the way I had previously witnessed all of the upperclassmen before me experience. I was enjoying an unusually warm afternoon for March, with the temperature in the high 70s. I remember thinking the day could not have been more perfect or beautiful. I was waiting during senior early release to return back to Goochland High to pick up my sister due to all afternoon activities being cancelled that day. That is when we received the announcement that schools would be closed for two weeks. That was the moment I knew COVID-19 was going to be much more impactful than anyone had expected.
As students we beg for a snow day — especially this past year due to having none. But the idea that students would not be returning to school for a minimum of two weeks due to a virus compared to the flu was unfathomable. My class never had the chance to say their final goodbyes, finish their last sports game, take final exams, or most importantly thank the staff of teachers and administrators who poured their heart and souls into ensuring we would, after 13 years, walk across that stage. At this point in time there was not even a stage for graduates to cross.
As we continued to charter these untested waters, all students adapted to our new way of learning. We began to have virtual meetings with our classes, instead of in person lectures; Advanced Placement Exams were carried out online; and even the extremely dreaded SOL tests were cancelled. Without the support of my teachers, finishing the semester on a high note would have been unattainable. Having my closest mentors check in on me daily is what helped me persevere and realize there was an end in sight. Perhaps this was not the ending we thought we had earned, but like everyone else we adapted and learned to celebrate the small victories we acquired.
For instance, this year’s Goochland High School Graduation Ceremony was by far the most amazing graduation of which I have ever taken part. Last year, I earned the honor of serving as Junior Marshall for the Senior Class of 2019. While their ceremony was beautiful, ours was personable. Having the small town feel of graduating at one of Goochland County’s landmarks, the Goochland Drive-In, was incomparable to any other ceremony. While waiting for the ceremony to start, a slideshow projected every graduate’s portrait, as well as personal pictures, with a description of their future plans on the large screen. We were even rewarded with what was the most impressive firework show I had ever seen. This experience was the most perfect example of a victory during a time where most people could only feel loss: loss of loved ones and the struggle of learning to live in isolation due to COVID-19.
Not only were we given a graduation, but parents also came together and put on a senior drive-by where community members filled the student parking lot and seniors were driven through the rows in parade-like fashion. Everyone came together and celebrated our accomplishments and perseverance. The Class of 2020 had strength like no other. Strength that pushed us to finish high school remotely and adapt to the most bizarre school year. Strength from being brought into this world from a different type of crisis — 9/11. Our first experiences in the world consisted of different adaptations to terror and here we are 18 years later experiencing yet another round. I may be biased but there is nowhere I’d rather spend my childhood than Goochland County. Our small town community and teachers have dedicated their lives to supporting our students and families throughout the years.
As my class enjoyed their final moments together during graduation we began to prepare for the next unknown — college. Before most colleges begin, students experience in-person orientation and other acculturations to become familiar with the university. Again, this is something that has been stripped from us. We will be going into college like any other freshmen, scared, but also filled with excitement for the future opportunities that await us. But, what we don’t know is this: Will we be renstricted to our dorm rooms? Will we even have the chance during our freshmen year to take classes in person? Will there be sporting events and small social gatherings where students are allowed to attend? For me personally, I do not have the option to take all classes remotely from my home. By doing that, I receive less aid and end up paying more for my tuition that I have already worked continuously to lower through scholarships and grants. How is that fair to decrease aid due to the option to take classes online because of a worldwide pandemic? If there is one thing everyone has learned during this, it is that nothing is promised to be fair.
This virus has taken so much from everyone that celebrating the small victories like an in-person graduation, a senior drive-by, and other modified activities is the only way to bring back parts of a normal life. One day COVID-19 will pass and the world may be a completely different place with different health regulations and new norms. This iss our life for now and we must take every opportunity we are given to continue living during this atypical time.
Reflecting on times of quarantine and social distancing, it is amazing to see how people have shifted their way of life to put others before them. We have taken the time to appreciate the simplest of things such as a phone call or text to a friend to check on them, family time at a slower pace, and even the wearing of a mask to protect one another.
Together, we will get through this.