As high schoolers throughout Southern California prepare for a return to the classroom for this first time in a year, we asked students to share their experiences. Attending Zoom classes during the pandemic has been difficult for teens, but they are a resilient group. Will there be prom? Will they be able to walk through graduation? What will the start of college be like? Here are their stories in their own words:
Kaitlyn Nguyen, 18, senior, Village Academy High School, Pomona
It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that my high school career is coming to an end; each day seems to pass by in the blink of an eye. This year was full of challenges and loss, but it also came with unforgettable memories and lessons.
As a senior, one of the most daunting challenges I had to face was the college application process. Oftentimes when looking at these applications it was easy for me to get intimidated by the process, but during this time I am glad that I had the support of my family, friends and local nonprofit organization, Bright Prospect (BP).
Despite the difficulties of figuring out virtual meetings, BP has been working hard to help meet the needs of students such as myself. While going through the college process I was fortunate enough to have a personal college coach, Juan Carlos Mora, who was introduced to me through the BP private college program.
Juan mentored me through the college process, while also helping me navigate my final year of high school. We often meet a few times a month, and during these times, although most of it was spent on filling out applications and discussing potential colleges, we also spent time just talking and building a connection, which is one of the most essential things we need during this time. Not only was I given a coach, who made the college application fun, I was also given a lifelong friend through this process and I could not be more thankful.
Early on in the process, I decided to apply as an early decision applicant to the University of Pennsylvania. Juan encouraged me to look into Penn, and through my research I came to the realization that this was the school for me. I came to this conclusion primarily because of Penn’s commitment to community service and community advocacy work, which has been something that I have been passionate about growing up. I am happy to say that I have been accepted into the University of Pennsylvania as a first-generation college student of Vietnamese descent.
Terrell Weaver, 17, senior, Alain Leroy Locke College Preparatory Academy
For my senior year, I did not expect it to be like this ....
I’ve watched my older brother and sister graduate, go to prom, and all the senior activities that seniors do for the last year of high school. I feel like it isn’t fair, for not just me but all the seniors in my class. We all have waited for this moment in our lives and now it’s been taken away from us due to COVID-19. We will never get a chance to experience something like this for ourselves again.
The one positive thing that came out of the pandemic was that my family and I were able to stay safe and no one was exposed to COVID-19. Also through it all I was able to maintain good grades. I will be attending Cal State Northridge in the fall. I hope to be in the athletic business, doing what I love — being involved with sports.
This year has taught me a lot about patience and balance. It took a lot to transfer to distance learning and still succeed.
My friends and family helped me get through this by spending time together in a safe manner. By supporting me, whether it’s sitting going over my homework or hanging out spending quality time.
Max Menache, 18, senior, Beverly Hills High School
That was THE question consuming most of my thoughts during the pandemic. What if football season wasn’t canceled? What if I was still physically in school? What if this virus affects my goals and dreams forever? As a high school senior, I’d been looking forward to playing football with my teammates in what could’ve been my most important and impactful season. Sadly, my experience was the opposite. The pandemic overshadowed everything and there was nothing I could do to get back on the field. I felt powerless.
While I had enough highlights on film from my junior year to get recruited, many seniors I knew were not as lucky. They were desperate to play, to show their talents and secure a spot on a college team. With a delayed start date and an extremely short season, high school football resumed in California, resulting in a drop of college football openings. Still, I looked for opportunities to become a better athlete. I spent the whole pandemic year preparing for the next chapter of my life. I had some lifting equipment at home and family friends offered me their home gyms to continue training. Most of the tracks around my neighborhood were closed; I found parks with ample room to run.
Although this past year was quite unpredictable, it seems we are starting to win the fight against the pandemic. I think the worst is behind us as we now have a better understanding of the virus. Life is slowly going back to normal. I’m headed to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., where I will play football and track. I can’t wait to hear the crowd cheering us on. I’m looking forward to attending classes and meeting my professors and classmates in person instead of spending my days staring at a screen. I’m really excited for what the future holds.
Emily Chen, 17, senior, San Gabriel High School
The surprise of this pandemic isolation year is finding out I am capable of being a homebody. By nature, I am very gregarious, love to perform, always very involved in everything at school, very social. My perfect day pre-COVID-19 would have been being in a crowd of friends. Now I take comfort in my room and don’t feel the urge to go out — and rarely do.
During the lockdown, two things helped me and were basically my only social interaction. The six of us in the Young Aspiring Writers With Power (YAWP) club had weekly check-ins to share our highs and lows. Then, because no sports were permitted, I started a twice-weekly Zoom workout for our cross-country and track team members. This spring, Zoom auditioned for the SGHS May musical production “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and got the part of Sally, Charlie’s little sister. The Zoom rehearsals have been great experience for all of us.
I watched my older sister go to prom and graduation and couldn’t wait for my turn. I have a prom replacement plan with two friends to go to my sister’s backyard in our dresses, socially distanced, to make some sort of memory.
I applied to 15 colleges and it was very hard to find the motivation in solitary confinement. I am deciding between UC Berkeley and UC San Diego. But I am persistent, maybe even stubborn, and do everything until I finish. I won’t give up.
Julio Flores, 17, senior, Alain Leroy Locke College Preparatory Academy
Being a senior in the 2020-21 school year is hard for everyone. It’s difficult to not experience memorable activities like prom, homecoming, graduation and so much more.
Being at home in distance learning while taking care of younger siblings has been a difficult challenge because things go sideways, like having a power outage, Wi-Fi outages, technical difficulties with devices. I have to make split decisions to make sure me and my brothers are fully learning and not missing anything.
Academics is just the tip of the iceberg. Being at home means chores and helping my siblings. It can get difficult looking toward the future — applying to college, scholarships, financial aid etc. ... I decided to find a way to let it all out and take my mind off things. What better way to relieve stress than to work out. I invited my brothers to join me, bonding, being healthy and creating memories.
Late in the evening, waiting for my parents to come home, I help in any way I can. We bond as a family watching a movie, playing video games or simply talking about our day. I am enjoying the time I have with them before moving away to my dream school.
This year has definitely taught me to conquer and overcome anything and stay dedicated to my goals for the best.
Julio will attend UC Merced.
Maxime Garcia, 17, senior, Whitney High School, Cerritos
School has always been my second home. I live two minutes away, so I was happily there from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., participating in all the activities I could. Since seventh grade, I’ve got involved in everything and have always been able to overcome obstacles in my way, until the pandemic hit. All of a sudden, my life vanished; no more staying late to make decorations, no more weekend drama practices, and nothing to keep me active. For months, I was walking from my bed to the kitchen, with the occasional stop to pet my dog, and that was it.
I cried for weeks when it was confirmed we wouldn’t be going back. I had been waiting for five years to relax and enjoy all the perks of being a senior. I had no choice but to focus on college and move on. I was lucky to have a few close friends supporting me. We’ve talked almost every day and for first semester, I would do online school with one of my friends, since we had all of the same classes! When the holiday spike hit, we had to do online school on our own and my motivation took a huge decline, especially as a second-semester senior.
Compared to the beginning of the year, when there was lots of buzz and anticipation to return, I do not want to go back to school in person.
We want to focus on a safe, in-person graduation. I want to celebrate with my classmates one last time before we go our separate ways, and have it be as safe as possible for all of us.
Maxime will attend Cal State Long Beach.
Ryan Fung, 17, San Gabriel High School
I’ve learned that life can change in a moment. My pandemic lesson is to take action right away on something I want to do because it’s impossible to get time back.
I’m an outgoing person, and feeling lonely at home has made me lose happiness and motivation. However, I learned to find comfort in my newfound appreciation for nature. I moved in with my older sister, Winnie, and I have since been able to hike frequently and walk at the beach with her dog. My friends and I have also connected through an innovative concept: Zoom game night. When my friend Dylan first organized the event, we found ourselves competitively shouting at one another once again — this time through our computer screens.
It has been difficult to miss out on events like Friday night football games and prom, but the free time has allowed me to pick up hobbies such as cooking. Some highlights include a matcha mille crepe cake and my copy of Vox Kitchen’s lomo saltado.
Excluding friends and good food, teachers and school staff have motivated me to finish high school strong. Counselors have been available to support me through the college application process, which has been especially significant as a first-generation college-bound student.
Ryan will attend Brown University or Dartmouth College.
Alya Mehrtash, 17, senior, Beverly Hills High School
Since I was in middle school, I’ve always imagined my picture-perfect senior year, and as I witnessed many older friends of mine experience that throughout my first three years at BHHS, the anticipation for my own senior year only grew. Not being able to experience that ideal situation that I’ve always looked forward to has been devastating, to say the least. I’ve discussed this with some of my peers before, and many of us agree that, so far, it really has felt like we’re doing junior year all over again rather than experiencing senior year and all the unforgettable experiences that are supposed to come with it, like prom, for example.
Of course, there have been both pros and cons to online school: I can easily roll out of bed two minutes before class starts and still be early, I can snack whenever I want, the list goes on. But I’m someone who thrives off of human interaction. I love being around people, and COVID has obviously made that incredibly difficult. I miss my relatives, my friends, my teammates and my teachers more than I can really describe.
As time has gone by, however, I’ve grown to accept that these are the cards that I’ve been dealt, and I’m really trying to make the most of it whenever I get the chance. This is not to say that this has been easy, but it’s something that has definitely helped me enjoy certain aspects of my abnormal senior year more.
This last year has really tested me and a lot of my friends. We’ve been posed with obstacles we would have never even imagined two years ago, but it’s also greatly contributed to my growth as a student, leader and individual. I’m still upset about the way my senior year has panned out thus far, but I’ve also grown to appreciate so many things I once overlooked, like the power of a seemingly simple hug, and that is something I will definitely carry with me in the future. I’m hopeful for the rest of the year, and I’m looking forward to closing out my high school experience with my friends in whatever COVID-safe ways we can.
Raven Ferrer, 18, senior, Mark Keppel High School, Alhambra
This is my second year in the Aspiring Medical Professionals Academy, which is a school within a school at Mark Keppel High. The academy lead, Ms. [Lakia] Mozell, tells us the AMP experience gives us a great foot in the door for the Cal State nursing program. I’m interested in becoming a PA [physician’s assistant] or a physician or maybe being in healthcare administration.
In mid-April, I am opting to return to the AUSD [Alhambra Unified School District] in-person afternoon enrichment classes to work with Ms. Mozell for the upcoming pharmacy tech exam.
The hardest part of this COVID year has been being constantly online — I feel like I am on call the entire day and it is draining. It’s challenging, but now online learning feels normal. Since elementary school I’ve always been an overachiever
I learned I am more resilient than I thought and realized I can’t sink into self-pity — I learned to pick myself up quickly. And I found a change of scene helped. So I’d “vacation” at my grandmother’s.
Raven will attend UC San Diego.
Kendall Tam, 18, senior, Mark Keppel High School, Alhambra
What I learned during the pandemic lockdown is I am more independent than I knew. I found out it’s OK to be by myself.
But hardest thing about this year has been being alone — just not seeing anyone at all.
We invented new ways to connect. As part of ASB (Associative Student Body), we started a podcast KUWK — Keeping Up With Keppel — to help all the students stay connected.
Since we had no basketball at school until March 26, I’ve been running with my brother and practicing shooting and dribbling at home.
It was hard to motivate myself to write the college application essays but I would write one and take the next day off and look at it again. I want to be a teacher or a counselor. This year has gone by fast — even with no school on campus.
Kendall will attend UC Riverside or UC Irvine.
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