Everyone remembers the joyous festivities that were thrown for the Class of 2020 after their year was cut short due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The community came together to celebrate the graduates with parades, the adopt-a-senior program, live-streams with special guest speakers, and so much more.

The question that stays with me as I begin my senior year full of unknowns is, “What about the Class of 2021?” The unity and understanding shown in June is long over.

Everyone envisions their senior year as the peak of their activities and sports, as 12th grade is usually filled with highest achievement and senior tributes. Unfortunately, this school year is starting with a whimper.

Many events for this school year have already been canceled. The incoming senior class is losing the chance to be leaders and receive the traditional accolades that they had worked toward for years. This is truly devastating that we may be missing out on our last year of band festivals, school dances, robotics league and even classtime itself.

To explore the Class of 2021’s perspective on this year, I interviewed several seniors from various school districts, including Westmont Hilltop, United, Central Cambria, Windber, Greater Johnstown and Conemaugh Township.

There are many fears that these seniors have, including that in-person school will be canceled very quickly and they will start to feel isolated.

Social interaction 

Central Cambria senior Orazio Thomas’s biggest fear is that, “There will be little to no social contact. Sometimes interaction with your friends is the only thing that makes school bearable.”

Other students in the Class of 2021 are scared that one of the biggest moments of their lives will be canceled: their graduations. Megan Ott, a senior at Windber High School, fears that she will not be able to walk across the stage at graduation, something that she has been looking forward to for years.

With so many unknown variables, the traditions students used to take for granted are now unknown.

For seniors everywhere, COVID-19 poses an incredible obstacle in making plans that may potentially impact the rest of their lives. With in-person college tours, shadow days and SAT exams being canceled, seniors are left confused as to what to do next.

These circumstances are like none anyone has seen before. 

Westmont Hilltop senior Serena Cohn said that this situation has even left supervisors at her college preparation program stumped as to what to do and how to help students.

Sophia Naugle, a United senior, said that “post-graduation plans have been very off the charts during quarantine. Not only has the current situation made it difficult to tour colleges and shadow, but it has also not allowed me to take standardized exams, or network.”

Not getting to truly investigate career options is terrifying, students said, because these are decisions the future graduate will make transitioning into adulthood.

Benefits of ‘slower schedule’

Though this year may be hard, a few positives came to light.

Being quarantined has allowed many seniors to have more chances and time to do activities they were never able to do before. Some took advantage of their slow schedules to do deep soul-searching.

Conemaugh Township senior Bella Stroscio said that quarantine gave her more opportunities to “examine my mental state and how I take care of myself. ... I realized that the things I was doing for self care were always basic human necessity. It was really eye-opening.”

Audrina Savory, a senior at Greater Johnstown, was able to check up on those around her.

“A slower schedule definitely gave me time to catch up with my family,” she said. “It felt good to not be in a rush to get things done and just sit with them and talk.”

‘Lots of confusion’

Many situations this year are to be taken one step at a time due to how drastically things could change at any given minute. One day an event might be happening and the very next day it could be canceled.

Laura Roach from Westmont Hilltop said she is “unsure about how this year will be, but imagines it will start out with lots of confusion.”

These uncertain events eliminate the Class of 2021 fearlessly entering the next stage of their lives, the students said.

What the Class of 2021 needs more than ever is community outreach and support to make sure that they are not the forgotten class. The best thing that the community can do for this year’s seniors is to not dismiss sadness and fears for the activities that have been canceled. 

Many will say that these occasions are no big deal, but that is easy to say when you were able to experience them.

The entire world is dealing with the unknowns of a relatively new virus. Many overwhelming problems are growing from unemployment to long-term damage to deaths, but that does not mean that the graduates of 2021 do not have challenges.

The Class of 2021 started this new year with many compromises nobody can prevent. 

We ask that the community respects our situation and even support us with the enthusiasm that the Class of 2020 received.

After all, no one’s favorite high school memories will ever be working in isolation and watching a virtual tour of a campus. To the all of the struggling and bewildered seniors, as the timeless classic “High School Musical” says, “We’re all in this together.”

Sarah Brandle is a senior at Westmont Hilltop High School.

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