Reflecting on a different kind of senior experience

Even people with 20/20 vision could not have seen what the year 2020 would hold for us. As a part of the class of 2021, we are still suffering the repercussions of a raging global pandemic. We have been robbed of our senior year and the experience that comes with the last few months of being a kid, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been able to make the best of it.

We came into the world in the midst of the 9/11 tragedy. The world as our parents knew it was drastically different than ours. It seems like a cruel twist of fate that we are graduating into a world that is just as politically charged. Between a global pandemic and voting in presidential elections to police brutality and increased unemployment rates, yet again we find the world changing as we are about to be released into it. 

If the pandemic has taught me anything, however, it is how important time is. When you are a blissfully ignorant seventeen year old in high school, you believe you are invincible. You grew up watching coming of age movies where protagonists always got the girl and graduated with their friends and family in the crowd. I remember distinctly watching every prom scene and imagining what my dress would look like.  I would dance under white lights with my closest friends while listening to songs that would promise a bout of nostalgia in ten years time.

But as a blissfully ignorant seventeen year old in high school, every inconvenience or negative change feels like the end of the world. And for a while, it truly felt like the world was falling apart. This year may have robbed me of what I had expected my final year in high school to be like, but it also showed me that I don’t need the picture perfect ending in every coming of age movie in order to have closure.

To make the best of what I had, I had to refuse to be broken by what I didn’t. This meant putting in effort to make things better for myself. Good things no longer came effortlessly if I only waited. I had to seek them out for myself. In an attempt to try and make up for the experiences I have missed out on, I realized that the experiences themselves are not what matter, but how I feel throughout each one.

Milestones don’t have to be a tearful goodbye at a final football game or pep rally. They can be driving in the car with your best friend while the windows are rolled down and the music is cranked up. They can be drive- by birthday parties with a line of people waving at you from your front porch. They can even be a failed bread recipe you saw on TikTok, because in the end you tried it anyway and that was all that mattered. 

In a way, not having anything meant having the opportunity to try everything with no expectations. There was self discovery in the early months of quarantine and a new routine I followed everyday to make sure the days never blurred into one another. The little time I spent with my friends was spent meaningfully and I learned to cherish our hangouts, even if that meant staying in separate cars while eating lunch in empty parking lots or facing each other through screens.

That was how I made my senior year memorable. Not by dressing up for spirit week, not by executing an elaborate senior prank, but by accepting that if I wanted to make the best of the situation then I needed to let go of the preconceived notion of what I thought my last year would be like.

The reality check that 2020 and 2021 gave was not one I had been expecting. I had dreamed of a graduation surrounded by friends and family, not masks and regulations. I had dreamed of classes and field trips without living my life through a computer screen. I pictured having the opportunity to have a final football game and homecoming parade, but the fact of the matter is that the traditional goodbye with a ribbon tied on it is not one that we will have. We have to define what closure means to us without the influence of the past and our expectations. 

Yet, people are made of experiences. They are formed by the interactions they’ve had with the world around them, and this turbulent year has taught me the value of time with the people in my life. None of us may have asked for any of the hardships of this year, but there are no take backs or rewriting history, regardless of how much we would like to try. Despite the challenges we have faced and overcome, the class of 2021 will be all the more resilient and prepared for the world ahead of us. After all, there is comfort to be taken in knowing that fire hardens clay.