YORK — York High School’s Class of 2020 has made history.
Over the course of four years, the motley crew of 105 students has racked up state championships in academics, athletics and fine arts. The seniors undoubtedly made their mark on York High School, but as they prepared to move on with their college and career plans, what they never would have expected was a closed school and a prom dress left hanging in the closet as they witnessed firsthand a global health event that turned the world upside down: COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic that began in Wuhan, China last December was quickly washed away by the excitement of a new year. January brought mysterious drone sightings, capturing the attention of everyone from the YHS art club eyewitnesses to York’s most avid drone hunters. Internet gags and memes about drone hunting and the possibility of World War 3 soon gave way to February follies about “catching the coronavirus,” whether in reference to an adult beverage or a tough bout with the flu. However, by February and early March, what began as a joke turned into a grave reality.
With the news of the first cases popping up in America, then the Midwest, then Nebraska, it became clear that COVID-19 was quickly closing in on YHS and the surrounding community. As spring break approached, and events normally taking place every year began to close down, an initial dismissiveness of the coronavirus turned to serious questions: How many cases are there? How many deaths? What will happen if it reaches York?
These questions were soon answered when, on Sunday, March 15, school was cancelled for the following Tuesday, the first cancellation due to COVID-19. Only a week before, York High students were hustling through the hallways, chatting with friends and making plans for Spring Break; now, it was likely that the seniors would never come back. The sudden turn of events came as a shock to the YHS seniors.
“I wasn’t ready for my last day of high school ever,” said one student. Another stated, “My last day of high school was just another day of my senior year.”
In addition to causing fear, uncertainty, and death across the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has permeated every aspect of life for students. York High’s E-learning program was launched on March 23, marking the official transition to online classes for what will likely be the remainder of the school year. This has been a challenge for members the senior class, some of whom do not have internet access.
“It’s made everything very tough for me,” says one senior. For many, including those who do have internet and computer access, the lack of a school environment has been a difficult adjustment. “It is complicated to do school at home, and I can’t just walk to a teacher and talk to them when I need help; I have to email them.” Though most of the class admits that they enjoy having extra free time, as one student put it, “Motivation is hard to come by when you can stay in bed all day long.”
Outside of creating academic challenges, COVID-19 has put the brakes on many high school traditions, including prom, which was supposed to take place tomorrow. This was to be the fourth prom for some seniors and for others, the first. Currently, it is postponed indefinitely. Dresses, tuxes, flowers, and other accessories purchased ahead of time now sit in the corner as their owners long to see their dates or even their friends outside of school video chats. According to several seniors, the worst part of being quarantined at home is “not being able to be with others in person — having to talk through a screen.”
The Class of 2020 agrees that it is very unfortunate that they have to miss out on the classic American tradition of a senior prom.
“Not having a senior prom would make high school seem very incomplete,” says one student.
“This is something I have been looking forward to for months. It makes me really upset,” says another.
Most of the responses are similar, expressing frustration and disappointment at not being able to enjoy one last dance with friends. “I like school at home, but I am really sad that we might not have any spring activities, prom, or graduation.”
With prom postponed, there is also much uncertainty surrounding other traditional senior year events, such as honors night and graduation. Honors Night, being the main source of public recognition for students receiving scholarships, is an event that many seniors were looking forward to, and for good reason. The Class of 2020 is full of bright students, including at least 10 with a 30 or higher ACT, two National Merit Finalists, and a Horatio Alger Association National Scholar. These students’ achievements, along with a record-breaking amount of scholarship money awarded to members of the senior class, are a few of the many accomplishments that would have been recognized on April 20. Also traditionally recognized at Honors Night are students who will be joining the military, of whom there are several this year.
Because the COVID-19 is likely to last beyond April, this year’s seniors may not be able to enjoy a final meal together at the traditional senior breakfast or attend the baccalaureate service, but while these events will be missed, the most long-awaited and treasured event for seniors everywhere is graduation.
“Missing out on graduation will be something that I will remember forever in a disappointing way,” noted a senior. “Walking across the stage in front of all of my friends and family was a day I looked forward to since freshman year.”
Aside from being an age-old tradition, graduation is the ultimate recognition of a high school student’s completion of many years of schooling. As one student stated, “I want…to be able to look back on [graduation] and think about all the work and sleepless nights it took for me to get that diploma. It’s like I went to school for 12 years for nothing.”
With the risk of disease and the current 10-person limit to public gatherings, even a family-only graduation party is not feasible, causing great frustration for students whose graduation invites are sitting at home. “We are missing out on so many memories and milestones by missing out on these events,” one senior said. “Everything I’ve been waiting for just went away.”
In the midst of all this change, uncertainty and disappointment, York’s senior class has also found hope, continued learning, and developed a resilience that will carry with them into the future. Though spring sports and activities have been cancelled or postponed, a reduction in the number of activities means more free time, something that many have longed for throughout their high school careers. Most students stated that the best part of in-home quarantine (other than sleeping in) is spending time with family. For many students, senior year means challenging coursework coupled with hours of work on scholarship and college applications; it is no wonder that so many are thankful to have been given some extra time with their families.
While the school may be closed, learning has not stopped for the Class of 2020. Many students stated that the e-learning program has taught them time management skills and helped prepare them for college.
“I think it’s a great practice run for us seniors to see what it is like when we get to make our own schedule and to see what college will be like.” Others stated that they have learned valuable communication skills, including “how to use Zoom and other digital platforms”; these skills are crucial in a world of advancing technology, even without a pandemic situation.
Perhaps the most important lesson that the seniors have learned is not to take anything for granted, especially relationships. Though the Class of 2020 did not expect their senior year to end in this way, they agree that the memories they made along the way are priceless.
“These changes in plans have made me realize how special high school was to me,” said one student. Another stated that he learned “not to take little things for granted, because everything can be taken away from you in an instant.”
The YHS seniors were united in their stance that, if given one more day, they would enjoy spending it around those with whom they have built relationships over the years. “I would talk to all my friends, because I miss talking to all of them. They are always there for me, and I’m always there for them,” says one student.
York’s teachers, who have also made connections with the senior class, continue to work with their students, keeping them engaged through a variety of activities: contests, art, and videos that are…entertaining, to say the least. As one senior noted, “They all have a unique place in my heart, and it wasn’t until now that I realized just how much they have impacted my life in a positive way.”
York High School’s Class of 2020 has broken records, is persevering through unprecedented times, and will set the standard for future classes. As America’s future healthcare professionals, scientists, soldiers, parents, and leaders, they now have a cause — making tomorrow safer and healthier for their children —and with the strength and resilience they are gaining from this trying year, they will succeed.
Like one student said, “Now I know that I am able to adapt to whatever life throws at me.”
The Class of 2020 is a promising group, ready to face whatever challenges may lie ahead: they are making history, and they will only continue.
Editor's Note: Alyssa Gilliland is a senior at York High School and is one of the York News-Times’ student columnists. We at the YNT felt that no one better could describe what high school seniors are feeling like, right now, during this unprecedented time that otherwise should have been their year of graduation and prom.