For the class of 2020, the last day of high school came abruptly. After a letter from FUHSD Communications Director Rachel Zlotziver, what was meant to be three weeks away from school was extended until the end of the school year, cutting senior year short and making March 13 the last day of high school for seniors.
For some, like senior Addy Nevitt, the first announcement of school closure on March 13 was when reality started to settle in. Though they had high hopes about eventually coming back, Nevitt says the subsequent extensions on school closure didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to them.
For those in Drama, like Nevitt and senior Daniel Schie, the three-week closure also meant their spring play, “Mamma Mia!,” would likely be canceled. To conclude their months of production, Nevitt, Schie and the rest of the Drama community had a mini dance party in the black box to the “Mamma Mia!” soundtrack and according to Schie, “danced the pain away.”
“When I heard the announcement that we were going to be off from school, I still was really emotional,” Nevitt said. “I cried a lot that day because I was not sure when I was going to see my friends again or if this was going to be longer than expected. [I] definitely tried to take advantage of the rest of my last day.”
For Schie, the announcement put a damper on the rest of his senior year. The cancellation of the play and events like Student Produced was just another sign for Schie that many of the fun aspects of Drama would no longer be available. Additionally, on March 13, Schie had just started his first day as Government teacher Ben Recktenwald’s teacher assistant (TA).
“My first thought was, ‘Well, this is somewhat ironic. My first day as a TA is also my last,’ but I had somewhat expected something like this to be happening for some time at this point,” Schie said. “So I wouldn’t necessarily say I was surprised. I guess that was when it finally hit me that this was real and a real pandemic, instead of some sort of amorphous threat.”
However, for others, like senior Ted Chai, his first reaction to the announcement was a mix of surprise and relief at the prospect of having some time off from school. Believing it to be the start of an extended break from school, Chai and his friends went to Half Moon Bay State Beach, playing spike ball and eating together to enjoy their Friday night. The gravity of the announcement didn’t fully settle in for Chai until the following Monday when local counties and the state began locking down, and the stock market began to take a downturn.
Chai believes his last day was representative of his four years at MVHS and is grateful for how it played out, with the academic stress of two back-to-back statistics tests, handing out boba at a Leo Club meeting and spending time with friends.
“I think [my last day] was more or less a microcosm of my entire high school experience — a bit of academic stress, a lot of extracurricular stuff and a lot of fun with friends,” Chai said. “It was just a normal day; [I] got to spend time with friends and have normal conversations in our normal lunch spots.”
Similarly, for senior Sravani Viswanadha, March 13 was a regular day up until the announcement. Viswanadha hadn’t expected the lockdown to happen, nor did she expect it to extend to as long as it has.
“At first, I was really happy; I’d hoped for them to cancel school for a long time because my mom is immunosuppressed and so I wanted to keep her safe,” Viswanadha said. “That day during lunch, I was sitting in the band room with my friends and band teacher [Ricky Alegria, who] said there’s a high chance that this would spread all the way until the end of the year — that’s what set it off for me.”
That day, Viswanadha’s parents wanted her to come home after school and stay safe, and she wasn’t able to make plans with friends. Though Viswanadha says her last day was fairly normal, she wishes she’d gotten a chance to say a proper goodbye to her friends. In contrast, Chai was satisfied with his last day and didn’t necessarily have elaborate last day plans; instead, he wishes he’d fully appreciated these mundanities.
“I think I would have just been more aware of everything, more aware of the fact that I should be actively talking to my friends during brunch and lunch, instead of just passively maintaining a [conversation] while on my phone,” Chai said. “I would have been more engaged with teachers, as it’s the last part of my high school educational experience, and having that sense of ‘this is the end of a section of my life.’”
Though Chai was unable to do this, he hopes to make up for it after the COVID-19 lockdown is over and, in the meantime, still plans to fully express his gratitude to the teachers who helped him get to this point.
“I always imagined myself visiting the teachers that I really felt like had an impact on me, giving them a small gift, maybe cards,” Chai said. “Now, the best I can do is probably just an email — a bit disappointing but still hoping to reconnect [and] I’m drafting up emails to some of my favorite teachers right now.”
Like Chai, Nevitt was also looking forward to reminiscing and appreciating their four years at MVHS. With two older siblings already going through their own graduations, Nevitt had already planned out what their last day at MVHS would be like.
“I had been daydreaming almost every day, envisioning the perfect last day as a senior,” Nevitt said. “I was going to get a bunch of people to sign my yearbook, and reminisce, being in my drama community, seeing all my old classes and walking around with people and laughing at old memories. Then, I was going to go over to one of my really close friend’s house with my friends that we all kind of go to as our hangout spot.”
Even though Schie didn’t have solid last day plans or any regrets, he feels he missed out on the celebratory atmosphere that usually accompanies the last day of school.
“There was this apprehension and excitement, looking forward to the future, and also looking back over your year as well, thinking about all that you’ve done and how you’ve changed,” Schie said. “Senior year especially, I’m sad I missed out on that because I’m not just looking back on my junior year — I’m looking back on my entire public schooling experience, as I then go out into the world for the first time. I’m just sad I missed that kind of excitement for the future that seems to overtake your last day.”
While Schie wasn’t able to fully experience his senior year to the fullest, he hopes the underclassmen will be able to appreciate what time they have left at MVHS.
“I know high school sucks, and I hate it, but it’s also going to be some of the most fun that you’ll have in your life, so try and look for the good parts and appreciate what you have of it,” Schie said. “Also, I’m expecting you juniors — I want to be invited to S[enior] B[all] by one of you guys because I’m going to that [and] you can’t stop me.”
It was a typical Friday evening in November. Senior Ahish Anant was working on his essay with a friend when, on a whim, he created a Google Doc listing potential activities to do with his friends for the upcoming second semester.
What was supposed to be a short thirty-minute break turned into a four-hour long video chat session, and the Google Doc now contained a variety of ideas. Some ideas were reasonable, such as seeing snow in Yosemite and watching a sunrise and sunset on the same day. Others were more outrageous, such as driving to Los Angeles during school hours.
The bucket list was born out of Anant’s desire to create cherished memories with his friends before starting college, and his objective for senior year was to complete as many of those activities as possible. When news of COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County emerged, Anant was initially hopeful that school would be canceled for the rest of the year. Less in-person instruction would mean more time for him to hang out with his friend group, and in turn, enjoy a fruitful second semester.
However, when the state-mandated shelter-in-place order began on March 19, Anant realized that his initial hopes were not going to be possible — COVID-19 had far-reaching effects not just for schools, but also aspects of day-to-day life.
“It took me a day to understand, but when it finally hit me that a lot of people were affected [by COVID-19], I was really bummed out,” Anant said. “I was really hoping school would reopen because I’d get to spend time with my friends and teachers and all the people I’ve made connections with but that wasn’t possible anymore, and knowing that this was happening in our last semester at [MVHS] sucked.”
To commemorate the memories he made at the start of second semester, Anant created a TikTok compilation video with clips of day-to-day life and his friend group traveling to L.A. While making this video paid homage to his high school career, Anant says it also gave rise to unceasing feelings of sadness and nostalgia despite his daily 10 p.m. FaceTime conversations with his friends and occasional hikes done six-feet-apart.
“We’re definitely trying to make the most of [social distancing],” Anant said. “I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied by playing basketball, working out more and watching the TV shows that I’ve been recommended, but it’s never going to be the same as before.”
Like Anant, senior Sydney Lin enjoyed her first couple months as a second semester senior. She and her friend group were excited that they’d successfully completed their junior year and first semester of senior year, which are traditionally perceived as the hardest months of high school, and could now focus on simply enjoying themselves for the remainder of high school.
Unfortunately, this excitement was short-lived when the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order led to the cancellation of Lin’s second semester plans, including senior ball and her summer trip. Although Lin has definitely felt the impact of school closure, she claims that much of what defines a second semester senior has remained the same even in quarantine. This includes having extra time to socialize with friends, which she does through FaceTime, and being able to relax with the lighter workload.
“To me, a second semester senior is someone who is trying to make the most out of the remaining time they have in high school without focusing as much on the academic part of it, which I feel like still stands, even in quarantine,” Lin said.
Senior William Xu agrees with Lin’s definition of what it means to be a second semester senior. However, he notes that although there’s a much lower emphasis on academic pressure, he personally hasn’t seen much of a change in most of his peers’ efforts in class, compared to in first semester. Under the credit/no-credit grading system, Xu believes that seniors can’t get away with skipping class, a common practice for many second semester seniors.
“The grading [and] the attendance policy has become a lot more strict,” Xu said. “For some teachers, if you miss a few classes, you may actually just fail the course. In online courses, [the] attendance policy has become a lot more strict but I guess people just have been doing the work but the work itself is not as hard anymore.”
For Anant, the lighter workload is certainly a positive. However, in the grand scheme of things, he believes that the second semester experience is characterized by the final experiences he shares with those close to him. This means going to school, actively putting in the effort to spend time with his friends and commemorating his time at MVHS.
And although Anant is certain that he made the most out of the short time as a usual second semester senior and recognizes the need for social distancing, he wishes that his second semester at school would’ve lasted just a little bit longer. That’s why he continues to actively monitor the news in hopes that the shelter-in-place order is lifted soon and he can reunite with his friends for one last summer before college.
“In some way, the fact that we’ve not been able to hang out with the people that make us most happy right now will only make us appreciate summer so much more,” Anant said. “We can enjoy those moments because we know now we can’t take any of it for granted.”
Senior Maya Tate has always considered her post-high school plans more unconventional than most — instead of attending a four-year college immediately after graduating, Tate planned to travel to Turkey to work on her friend’s farm. She also wanted to rock climb, travel through the U.S., intern for a lawyer or professor on the East Coast and get a wilderness certification. Tate believed that taking a gap year would distinguish her from other applicants, but with more universities continuing online learning in the fall, other students are starting to consider a similar plan.
“I didn’t really know exactly where I wanted to go with my studies and my career, so I thought that I would take a gap year to explore, work and gather knowledge to see what appealed to me,” Tate said. “I struggle with anxiety and depression, and junior year was really bad so I didn’t think I [would be] able to handle the applications. Also, I just love being outdoors. I’ve been planning this for a really long time and it sucks that I’m going to probably end up getting lumped into the same category as a lot of people who are just now discovering [they] need to take a gap year.”
Despite travel restrictions and the shelter-in-place order possibly extending into the summer, Tate says she still wants to take her gap year, but is unsure of how to spend her time doing it. For now, though, Tate’s plans remain tentative.
“It’s a little stressful, honestly, because I don’t know where this is going to go,” Tate said. “And I know that a lot of domestic travel in the U.S. has been restricted and it’s kind of stressful. Do I go to community college? Do I [go to Turkey] and risk getting stuck? What do I do? It has been really stressful and [has] made it hard to stay motivated and keep working on what to do during the gap year.”
Because of the school campus closure stretching over three months as of May and all events being canceled indefinitely, many other senior trips and plans have been affected as well. With their trips either canceled or postponed, many seniors have needed to get refunds on flights or postpone their trips until next year.
Senior Kaitlyn Chen, who planned to travel to Tahoe and L.A. with her friends, says she is still unsure of whether they will completely cancel their plans or postpone them. Chen believes that once travel restrictions loosen, destinations like Tahoe could still be a possibility to visit while large cities and beaches like L.A. probably will not — so Chen and her friends are still in the works of planning.
“The entire thing [has] so much uncertainty and stuff that’s up in the air,” Chen said “Also, the senior class office was talking about holding an event for the seniors that is similar to grad and senior ball all in one. I’m hoping that happens. It would mean a lot to actually have that happen.”
Chen posted on her Instagram story for people to reply with what they are planning to do once mandatory shelter-in-place ends. Chen says she did so to keep herself and others optimistic and hopeful for life to “return to normal.”
“I recently did an Instagram poll [asking what people plan to do after shelter-in-place], just to get a list of ideas down, and people had a lot of unique things they wanted to do,” Chen said. “Some that I especially liked were going to the beach, renting a house with friends, bonfires, late-night car rides, just like regular teenage stuff that we’ll only get to do this last time.”
Similarly, senior Alex Yang planned to go to Paris and Barcelona at the end of the summer with a friend but has postponed the trip due to travel restrictions after other events were canceled. Yang says the biggest indicator to postpone his trip was hearing that large events like his friend’s fencing tournament were canceled.
Yang says that despite his disappointment and the stress that comes with replanning a postponed trip, it is still better than canceling it entirely. According to Yang, delaying the trip gives him something to look forward to in place of the “disappointment of cancellation.”
“It was a slow realization as stuff kept getting worse,” Yang said. “If big companies can’t figure out what [they’re] going to do, we probably can’t either … I wish I could still do it, trying to figure out ways to replan it or keep just being hopeful about it. But now that it’s gone, you can be disappointed, but I feel like I just got to move on and plan in the future. You’re not really helping yourself by sitting around in your room alone and quarantine, feeling sad for yourself.”
Further supporting postponing and planning events for the future, Yang says it is a good way to motivate oneself to be productive every day and not feel upset over shelter-in-place. For those who are planning trips, Yang believes one must plan with caution as restrictions are always changing. This holds true for his decision to postpone his trip, originally a few months away, to next summer or next spring break.
“Even if things got better when the restrictions ended, it would still be rough and [hard to] manage so many things that I think it would be best to just have something to look forward to the entire time,” Yang said. “If you’re having a hard time and you really want to grasp onto something like ‘I want to go to a concert that’s happening in August,’, just go and buy tickets. It’s for yourself, and if you don’t go, maybe the anticipation of thinking about like, ‘I just have to make it through this couple months for the concert’ is worth it.”
Chen shares this mindset of having something to look forward to after the shelter-in-place ends. She misses seeing people and “having options” of what to do. Chen says the first couple things she wants to do once the shelter-in-place order is canceled, besides her senior trips, is to get her hair and nails done, hang out with friends and eat good food. Chen believes looking forward to these smaller events is currently more realistic than larger trips.
“Even now, we’re only hoping that we can do regular things — things beyond that are probably already put out of the question, so we’re not even thinking about that,” Chen said. “Now, I just miss the regular parts of life — not even the senior parts, just being able to go out to breathe fresh air, have human interaction and eat good food ... This sounds stupid, but I really need to get a haircut. I want to get a haircut. People also said to get their nails done with friends [on the Instagram poll] –– I think that’d be really fun just because I felt [like] a frickin’ sock for so long.”
From senior trips to graduation, ditch day to senior ball, the final months of senior year are usually home to some of the most anticipated events of many students’ high school careers. But with the sudden termination of these events and the shelter-in-place requirements stretching for indefinite amounts of time, the Class of 2020 has found itself having to say goodbye to many of the traditions it has awaited since freshman year.
Despite these circumstances, many teachers and families of seniors have done their best to design small celebrations from the confines of their homes to create memories for the seniors. In past years, chemistry teacher Kativa Gupta has always made an effort to do something for her seniors, like bringing in homemade cookies. Gupta has always relied on the in-person aspect of these small gestures and has been challenged by the restrictions posed by the shelter-in-place order.
This year, Gupta decided to poll her classes to determine what she could do to honor her seniors over a Zoom call. Gupta suggested that her seniors give her juniors advice about the upcoming year of college applications and decisions, or that each of the juniors share a fond memory of the seniors. In an effort to honor the lost senior ditch day, Gupta considered letting her seniors leave her class two minutes early or even hosting a Zoom talent show so that her seniors would have a memorable final AP Chemistry class.
“We are doing very small things, but I hope my students will see the feeling behind it,” Gupta said. “The actions are small, but their meaning is that you’re valued and you’re cared for. We love you, seniors, and I’ll be letting you go with lots of love.”
English teacher Lynn Rose reminisces about her graduation and feels sad that her daughter, who is graduating from high school this year, will not be able to experience the many rites of passage that she had worked so hard to achieve.
“My memory of graduation is really clear because it was my 18th birthday,” Rose said. “I have a memory of walking across the stage and all my friends yelling ‘happy birthday!’ and being with family and friends and that camaraderie and celebration. It’s hard, as a parent, to not be able to witness that after your child has worked so hard and for so long.”
Rose’s graduation present to her daughter, a trip to Japan originally planned for the summer, was canceled, but Rose hopes that they can reschedule the trip to the five-week break that her daughter will have in January. In the meantime, Rose and her family have been trying to recreate a little bit of that experience in their own home by making different Japanese dishes and frequenting a local Japanese store.
Some families, however, have not been as understanding about the certain rites of passage that their children are missing out on. Senior Ivanshi Ahuja, who had a trip to Europe and India with her family planned, found herself hesitant to tell her parents about her sadness regarding the canceled in-person graduation. Ahuja feels that her immigrant parents would not necessarily appreciate the value that American schools place in ceremonies like graduation or prom.
“[My parents] just said, ‘It’s not the end of the world’ because they haven’t grown up in America and they haven’t celebrated the same milestones,” Ahuja said. “They didn’t have prom or anything when they were in school and they didn’t have a senior all-night party or any of that. They think [not having those things is] totally normal.”
While Rose acknowledges that not having a graduation may not be significant in the grand scheme of things, she believes that it is important to recognize that many seniors’ feelings of sadness are valid. Ahuja also understands the relatively little importance of many of the small milestones of senior year, but still believes that seniors have a right to feel upset about losing much of their last year of high school.
Overall, Rose hopes to do as much as she can to uplift her daughter’s final months in high school despite the current circumstances. She plans on attending her daughter’s drive-through graduation and is also planning a neighborhood driveway surprise party. Rose also hopes to pay for her daughter to have a date with her boyfriend at a fancy restaurant so that she gets an opportunity to wear her senior prom dress in lieu of the canceled prom.
As a teacher, a parent and a person who has experienced all of the typical senior milestones herself, Rose understands the importance of communicating to students that their hard work is recognized and validated.
“[As a teacher], those last days reinforce the sense of community in those last classes, with bonding and connecting in ways that are outside of the academic realm to spend time with students,” Rose said. “I think teachers should have conversations, especially with students that they’re proud of, to just let them know that we’re proud of them and that the lack of a celebration doesn’t mean that it isn’t one.”