We Want a “Normal” Summer. Sincerely, the Class of 2021

If there’s one word I have heard thrown around more in this past year than my entire life, it’s “unprecedented.” 2020 is the year of Covid-19 and all of the repercussions associated with this raging virus. While all of us have been affected by this pandemic, high school seniors have been impacted at a particularly critical turning point in our lives, as we transition from high school to college and adolescence to adulthood. As a senior myself, I witnessed the class of 2020 lose their senior prom and a “normal” graduation ceremony, then fearing what might happen to my own future senior year plans. Now, my classmates and I are living through that reality.

While school is primarily associated with attaining an education, for most students, it’s also about the social interactions with friends, peers, and teammates. Sathvika Jothivenkatesan, a senior at Shaker High School, shared that “certain social skills have gone down because I haven’t been around people the way I used to. Interactions with friends have decreased,” and “I am more introverted than I was before.” While less contact with students means less social bonding, Shaker senior Ethan Andrews also found a positive angle to this difficult situation, describing how he has taken on greater self-initiative as a result of being isolated from others. “I’ve felt a lot more independent in general, which was one good thing.” 

In a year meant to be spent with your friends before everyone parts their ways towards post-high school plans, seniors have had to struggle with social distancing measures and instead rely on virtual settings to stay connected. Anna Ryu, another senior at Shaker, expressed concern about how Internet-based interactions have been impacting her ability to connect with students, attend orchestra rehearsals, and lead club meetings. In particular, Ryu shared her frustration regarding “99% of people’s cameras being turned off,” stating that it frequently feels like “I’m talking to myself” with no human reactions to bounce off of.

While these times have been incredibly unprecedented, ten months have passed since the world went into lockdown, so many seniors have found ways to reconcile the face-to-face interactions they used to enjoy. Ryu balances her time online with outdoor activities. “I go on walks in the neighborhood by myself or with my sister and mom,” she shared. A fourth senior at Shaker, Shashank Garg, employs social networks such as Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Discord, and Houseparty to interact with his friends. Yet, he expresses the same immense frustration so many other seniors have described. “Pre-Covid was just so much better. There were really no good things I would take away from this pandemic. I want to meet up with my friends in-person for at least one last time.”

Besides education and social interactions, extracurricular activities have also been drastically impacted by this pandemic. Many Shaker students deeply value their participation in sports, music, clubs, and so much more. Now, most of those activities have been completely canceled or shifted online, which just doesn’t feel the same to many. Ryu, an avid violinist and oboist, shared how much she misses her Empire State Youth Orchestra group rehearsals. “I used to wish I wasn’t at rehearsal… asking myself ‘why am I here?’ Now, I want to go back to one rehearsal room of everyone doing the same thing.” It’s a feeling shared by Garg as well, who lost his robotics competition season to Covid. After his tournaments got canceled, there was “nothing left to do but study for AP exams,” he recounted.

After interviewing my peers, I wanted to see how they view their senior year as a whole so far, in just a mere phrase or word. Andrews described his year as “relaxing but uninspiring and disappointing.” Garg described his as “forgettable.” Jothivenkatesan shared that it was “unexpected” — a term I believe many of us would agree with. Ryu tied it up by simply calling it “disappointing.”

It was tough hearing all of this, especially as I reflect on my personal view of senior year so far. I feel that people cannot truly fathom how Covid-19 has affected high schoolers until they step in our shoes and sense it for themselves. While adults have had plenty to deal with as well, there is a certain loss that high schoolers grieve during such a crucial transition during our lives. Yet, while there is much to miss, I have also grown to value aspects of life that I used to take for granted. Particularly, this pandemic has given me a deeper appreciation for the importance of technology. Even though texting, FaceTiming, and posting on social media doesn’t come anywhere close to the in-person experiences we all miss, these tools keep us connected in some way, shape, and manner. These online networks are the one constant I have in my life, and they truly have brought many of my friends together, even during the worst weeks of this virus.

I would also say that quarantine evolved some of my previous acquaintances into closer friends, while some of my previously closer friends slipped away a bit — solely due to not being able to see one another like we used to. As a North cohort student at Shaker, I haven’t been able to see most of my South group friends since March, leading to a natural weakening of some of those friendships. It has been a tough pill to swallow, but I am hoping to rekindle some of those friendships once we finally reach our new normal.

Yes, 2020 is finally over. I am sure that every single one of us is waiting for this nightmare of a pandemic to be over. While being a high school student during these times has been everything but simple, I truly cherish the unique bonds I have developed with fellow seniors undergoing the same situation. Forging forward with optimism, rather than cowering behind despair, is what will help us make it through this. Here’s to an incredible, memorable, and (hopefully) Covid-free summer, class of 2021.