Senioritis—that age-old slump that hits high school seniors in the spring of their last year of school, has historically come about when seniors felt they had college or a secure job locked in for the summer and/or college locked in for the fall—so why try any harder?
The graduating classes of 2020, unlike any other generation that has come before them, are facing a new twist on senioritis —and it comes with the five stages of grief.
Emily Boynton, Senior Class President of Oceanside High School, summed up what most seniors are going through perfectly in an essay she penned for the school newsletter titled, “A New Kind of Senioritis.”
Here’s the start of her essay: “As the school year comes to an early and unexpected end, people in our community have mixed emotions. Some fearful, some sad, and some kids may even be excited to have an extra-long summer to run around and play. But one group of people that is undeniably united in their grief due to the worldwide pandemic is the Senior Class of 2020. Seniors across the globe have been left grieving their last few months of their childhood, only to be thrust into a harsh world of uncertainty.”
Set to graduate June 9, Emily and her classmates have been remote learning at home since March 15, 2020.
“I think in the first two weeks we were told to stay home, everybody was sort of in denial, like ‘Oh, it’s only two weeks, then we’ll be back at school,’” she said. “It almost just felt like a vacation. Then, as more news started coming out and the school opening was postponed again, a lot of the seniors started to get more nervous. We began to wonder if we were going to be able to go to prom or if we were going to graduate. The anxiety kept building.”
Unable to see friends face to face, Emily and her friends have been texting and Facetiming to discuss their future.
“Seniors, please don't let the cancellations, postponements, and circumstances cause you to think that you are not important. You may be tempted to think that who you are and what you've done is of no value, but that's not true. You matter. Even if we can't get together on June 9 to communicate this to you... you matter.”
Principal, Oceanside High School
A section of her essay pinpoints the other hidden losses that come with this pandemic.
“The weeks that followed brought with it spiraling emotions as different realities set in. Seniors now wonder if they have already seen their friends for the last time, if they will ever see their favorite teachers again, and if they will ever get a chance to walk across a stage to receive a diploma. But our grief doesn’t simply stop at graduation. We are left wondering if we will get scholarship night, Trekkers Graduation, inspiration, and an honors brunch. We wonder when we will go on our final Trekkers trip that has been hyped up for the past six years. We mourn the loss of senior performances, spring sports seasons, a senior rafting trip, a senior prank, a senior skip day, a project graduation night, and a class sleepover. We wonder if we will ever get to go to a final prom with our high school sweethearts.”
For Emily, merely expressing these feelings added to the guilt of appearing superficial, when people were dying at alarming rates due to Covid-19, businesses were failing, economies were collapsing.
The adults rule the news cycle and their fears have dominated the news since early March, but teenagers are certainly allowed to mourn their own losses in their own way.
The plans for graduation at Oceanside have not been canceled, according to Emily, who has been in communication with Principal Jesse Bartke. For now, the official word is that the ceremony has been postponed, but according to Bartke: “it will look different.”
Still, it’s unclear to many seniors exactly how that will pan out.
“With my friends, we talked a lot about the fact that we’re lacking closure,” said Emily. “All of these pieces are supposed to end our childhood and signify moving on to the next phase of our lives, but I think a lot of us were caught in this limbo. We’re feeling pretty much done with school at this point, but we haven’t graduated yet, and don’t even know what graduation even going to look like. Will it be in August? Will it be virtual? Or if it is in person, will it be limited to just my parents? Does that mean my grandparents can’t come?”
“There’s a lot of sadness,” Emily said. “We’re not going to get to experience what every other class before us has.”
Emily said anger is also present for many of her peers. “But we’re just not sure what to be angry at,” she said. “Some kids are angry because the virus has just ripped away everything we’ve been looking forward to this our entire lives. Some are mad at Gov. Janet Mills for the social distance restrictions. Personally, I have no place to direct my anger. I’m kind of angry at the world.”
Seniors are trying to find things in their life to feel better about and look forward to. A summer job and college, typically the two milestones that follow graduation, are also uncertain.
“I always work with my grandparents at a gift shop, but that business relies on tourism, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work out,” she said. “And a lot of us are facing going to college in the fall, but we don’t know how that is going to look either—will students be allowed back on campus?”
For Emily, and so many graduating high schoolers in Maine this spring and summer, the key to finding some balance will be in appreciating the little moments that make them happy.
“I’ll be happy when I can see my friends again,” she said. “But, I think we’ll all just reach this phase where we accept [that we can’t control it] and find other things in life to look forward to. In the grand scheme of life, graduation isn’t everything. In the meantime, I’ve been going outside a lot more. When my sister and I were younger, we used to walk this little trail behind in my grandparents’ house. Recently I’ve gone back to exploring that as well as the forest behind my house and it’s been kind of cool to have that time to be a child again.”
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org