The graduating class of 2022 are hopeful. Hopeful for some normalcy. Hopeful for traditions, like prom and graduation. Hopeful for their futures.
This collective of soon-to-be graduating students were able to start their high school careers as freshman traditionally during the 2018-19 school year. But each year since has been far from traditional, since changes and mandates began affecting their school years in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Springfield High School
seniors Leah Jolly, Cameron Proctor, and Antwan Terrell, all 17, the pandemic caused some uncertainty and loss. But they say it has also changed them for the better.
“I most definitely thought high school would be like it is in High School Musical. I thought there’d be food fights and singing,” Proctor says, adding that that obviously wasn’t the case when he actually started high school.
All three seniors say they had an active start to high school. They were – and still are – involved in a mix of sports, music and educational extra curriculars.
But everything they knew and expected came to a halt in March 2020. That was when schools were shut down because of the pandemic. Though the shutdowns began as a pause for a couple weeks, that school year never resumed in-person learning.
“During that time when we were all quarantined, it made my life go downhill. Everything was boring,” Proctor says. “All I wanted to do was lay in bed, and I never wanted to do school work.”
Jolly agreed, saying she lost motivation to do school work. As an avid volleyball player, Jolly says games stopping mid-season and competitions shutting down all together was hard for her.
“For me, it was just a really abrupt change,” says Terrell. “It was hard to adjust to, just being home all the time as opposed to being in school and seeing people on a regular basis. To be in my room by myself, it was depressing. Not having social interactions that you’re used to having, that kind of messed up everything for me.”
Though all three students admit to struggling with the challenging end to their sophomore year, they also all say that in hindsight, the pause changed them for the better.
“I feel like because we had more free time, we were able to work on life goals. That was one of my things – I was able to set goals for myself that I wouldn’t have done otherwise,” Proctor says. “Right after school ended at the end of sophomore year, I had more time to deal with myself and understand myself more, and that was really great. It was a great time of self-reflection.”
Jolly had a similar experience.
“For me, it was getting a break,” says Jolly, who says that between school, sports, and other activities, she had a pretty consistent and full schedule before the pandemic. “I was able to rest my body and work on my health and really focus on me and not school and not volleyball, but I was really focusing on myself.”
Though she didn’t know at the time it was something she needed, Jolly says the ability to focus on herself and check-in on herself is something she’ll take with her moving forward.
“Once I get into college, there’ll be a schedule, but I still have to have time to work on myself and to put myself first, then school second and then extracurriculars,” Jolly says.
Organization and self-reliance were skills Terrell says he gained while things were shut down and during a brand new transition to virtual schooling.
“I would say that the time allowed me to set up a sense of organization for myself. I didn’t have teachers there all the time to tell me to get stuff done,” he says. “I had to do things myself, and because I wasn’t around people as much, I was less codependent and had to be there for myself more.
“It was a good time to reflect and to mature in a way. I would say it was a time of reflection for me.”
As the students started their junior years in the fall of 2020, Terrell and Proctor started back to school in person, while Jolly opted to do school virtually.
“I feel like coming into the year, it was not what I expected. Somehow, over the summer, I figured COVID would just disappear somehow,” Terrell says. “When they were talking about keeping school open, and they sent my schedule, I hoped maybe we could be back to life as normal.
“But then cases started rising again, and it all went downhill.”
Terrell says he had to spend time at home in the middle of his junior year because he was exposed to another student who had tested positive for COIVD-19.
“I chose in-person for a reason, so being home again was weird, and it was an adjustment again to try to stay on a schedule and be organized and to get up every day and show up for class,” he says. “But to do that from home is so hard.”
Proctor says going back to school for the start of the 2020-21 year was a little awkward because everyone wore masks and because of the mix of online and in-person learning.
But, he says he’d rather wear a mask and get to be in the school building with his classmates and teachers than have to return to virtual learning.
Terrell and Jolly both say they agree.
“Being virtual is definitely hard because you’re used to being at school every day,” Jolly says. “I’m really glad to be back. I’m glad to see my friends and to be with my teachers.
“Doing virtual school wasn’t so hard, but I am really glad to be back. I just want to enjoy my senior year. We have homecoming soon and powder puff, and I just want to have a fun senior year.”
All three students emphasized how important they each believe it is to get the COVID-19 vaccine and to wear masks.
“If I’m ever in a conversation with someone about vaccines or masks, my standpoint is if you can get the vaccine, get it,” says Terrell. “If you don’t feel comfortable, or you aren’t able to because of your family or another situation, just please continue to wear a mask and be safe and help keep other people safe. I’m not here to judge.”
Jolly agreed, saying, “If you don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s your choice, but at least wear a mask. At least be respectful of other people in that way.”
At 17, these students and their peers are living through the first global pandemic in more than 100 years. They have grown a lot since the pandemic-related changes began in March 2020, but they are also all still hopeful to get to experience some of the traditional things high school has to offer.
“Ever since sophomore year, I’ve really be hoping for a normal graduation,” Proctor says. “I want to graduate with all my people. I came into high school with them, and I want to leave with them.”
Terrell says he’s looking forward to prom and also graduation.
“I hope for a normal graduation,” he says. “Covid has taken enough time from all of us, and I feel like we at least deserve a normal graduation.”
Looking forward, all three students hope to go on to college but none have settled on schools yet.
“I really want to play college volleyball and get a degree in nursing,” Jolly says. “That’s what I’ve been learning toward for a long time, but the pandemic has made me more driven. My thing with wanting to be a nurse is wanting to be there for other people when they are in need.”
Proctor plans to major in pre-dental or chemistry and is looking at schools within Ohio where he can continue participating in marching band, something his has greatly enjoyed throughout high school.
“For the longest time I said I didn’t want to go to school in Ohio,” Terrell says. “But lately I’ve been thinking about OSU (Ohio State University). They have a good social work program. I fell like I’ve always had a deep compassion for other, and I want to help people how I can.”
In summing up their high school years as they move toward the middle of their senior year, the students all say that ultimately going to school during the pandemic has made them stronger and more prepared for the future.
“I was in a place there I thought things were going good,” Terrell says. “Then Covid hit, and it was a big challenging period. And after that, things started to really go good, and I made actual improvements to myself and did things to benefit me in the future.”
Proctor says he’s taken hold of the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
And Jolly says she feels ready for curveballs ahead in life.
“There are always bumps in the road. The pandemic is a bump in the road,” she says. “You have to get over it, and move on with life and keep going. I think my high school experience has been amazing. It has had a bump, but it has been amazing, and I’m thriving.”