Story by Larry Altman
Madi Marks admits it’s a scary time to be a high school senior.
She was supposed to tour colleges in New York and Miami. With everything shut down because of the pandemic, the 17-year-old expects to choose a college, perhaps the most important decision so far in her life, by looking at photos and information online.
“I’ve been trying to stay positive, doing my homework outside, going on hikes, doing artwork and everything. But yeah, that’s how the COVID-19 has been affecting me,” said the senior from West Ranch High School in Stevenson Ranch.
Across the nation, high school seniors – a generation born after 9/11 and entering adulthood during the pandemic – have placed their education and futures on hold. Many schools have shut down through summer. Learning, along with the thrill and stress of selecting a college, has become “remote.”
Many rituals besides university visits have been canceled, including proms, grad nights, senior rallies and graduation ceremonies. Will they even have a yearbook to show their children 20 years from now?
For many, especially those aiming to become the first in their families to go to college, finances have become precarious with businesses closed, parents losing jobs and the economy possibly headed toward a depression.
“Everyone’s anxiety/worry level is high,” said professor Einat Metzl, who teaches marriage and family therapy courses at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester. The stress extends far beyond personal concerns about exams, grades and college admissions, she said.
“Some teens are very dialed into politics, considering global and local impacts, witnessing leaders respond, exploring the meaning of this time within their knowledge of historical times – such as the Great Depression, previous elections, the rise and fall of civilizations – wondering whether this will be the defining event of their lives and considering their place and role,” Metzl said.
Missing Out on Rituals
Canyon High School senior Isabelle Mesropian said she already knows she’ll be majoring in journalism at Cal State Northridge this fall. But even with that certainty, she said it’s frustrating to miss out on the end of the school year and everything that goes with it – the prom, the final “easy stretch,” hanging out with friends.
“It feels like it all got stolen away from us,” the Santa Clarita teen said. “Our senior year ended way too early.”
Still, the teenagers said, they understand the perspective: Coronavirus victims are dying, people are losing their jobs, healthcare professionals are trying to save lives while endangering their own.
“I don’t want to seem selfish,” Madi said. “I’m trying to look at the positive…. My family is safe, and all of my friends are safe.”
Rebecca Hurst, a senior at Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles, misses bonding with her classmates but has more than her high school experiences to think about. Her parents – a nurse and a doctor – leave robes in the garage so when they come home from work they can remove their clothes and immediately come inside to shower.
Anthony Lane, an 18-year-old senior at Millikan High School in Long Beach, said he knows he’s headed to college but doesn’t know where and when. A member of the Natural Born Leaders club and president of the Black Student Union, Anthony has been accepted at several colleges and is leaning toward studying business at Howard University in Washington D.C. But he can’t visit that campus and is awaiting delayed word about financial aid. He’s not even sure if some colleges will reopen in the fall.
“There’s a certain level of anxiety and just a feeling you are missing out on something that you hear about all your life … ‘This is going to be the best time of your life.’” He said it’s “very disappointing” to be missing out on senior prom and much of the exploration and discovery involved in going off to college.