The COVID-19 pandemic has stripped millions of high school students of important adolescent milestones. Too many, milestones such as prom and graduation serve as a rite of passage into adulthood; they are culminations of almost twelve years of intense, academic work. Being in the graduating Class of 2020, I went through feelings of disappointment, despondency, separation, and loss when I was stripped of my senior spring last May.
There was truly nothing I could do to ameliorate the distressing state of the world; for the first time in my entire life, I felt like nothing was in my control. In quarantine, I watched the days pass by: days which I had intended to spend with my friends, with whom I had grown over the past four years of my life. I felt like I was missing some of the most important days left in my childhood.
Amidst my feelings of hopelessness, I attempted to regain a sense of control. I spent much time alone, contemplating the best ways for my friends and I to make the most of the unfortunate hand we had been dealt, despite our social distancing. As a result of my meditation and thought, I came up with a few ways to manage expectations, both for young adults missing out on life events they had been expecting for years, and for parents who realistically cannot be expected to make the state of the world much better for their children.
To all the high school seniors out there, I want to begin by saying that I’m sorry. This year was not at all what you were expecting, and it is certainly not what you deserve. While the vaccine rollout seems hopeful, you have already lost over half of your senior year to a virulent, ruthless virus, over which no one has any control.
Watching one of the most informative years of your life slowly slip away is not something I would wish upon anyone. Yet, unfortunately, it is a circumstance that we will both have to endure. Here is some advice from one kid-who-lost-her-senior-year to another:
Establish a support system
Try to find people who can understand the emotions you are feeling. Though you may be thinking “why did it have to be me who lost my senior year?”, remember that there are millions of other young adults who are in the exact same situation as you are. We are all mourning the loss of one of the only things no one can buy back: time. Others can at least relate to how you are feeling, even if they may not feel the exact same way themselves.
Additionally, seek support from your parents. Depend on those who have been living with you through unprecedented lockdowns and national grief. Parents always want the best for their children, and will want to support you in different ways; stay candid and frank with them while maintaining open lines of communication about the best ways for them to support you in these times of sadness and loss.
Focus on what is in your control
To me, the ability to stay connected with my friends was COVID-19’s silver lining. Being locked inside and having so much extra time on my hands allowed me to strengthen my relationships, regardless of the means of communication. I depended on my friends, and they in turn depended on me. We would establish weekly FaceTime calls to really, truly check in on each other. When we sought a bit of social excitement, we would conduct Zoom meetings: one time over 50 of my friends were all in one Zoom together.
Staying connected was an incredibly helpful way for us to manage losing the final few months we were supposed to spend with one another; talking to my friends whenever I wanted helped me feel like I had regained a sense of control in my life. The scheduled calls gave me structure in a time where I felt like even the world had none.
To provide some extra excitement, you might consider planning a post-COVID celebratory trip with friends. Choose a location, find a hotel, and construct your own itinerary. Having a concrete plan, and needing only to hit “book” once the world goes back to normal, is a sure way to instill excitement while establishing something to look forward to in the future.
Remember what these sacrifices are for
For the most part, the precautions that high schoolers take in the face of the pandemic are not for their own benefit. By now, it is common knowledge that COVID disproportionately harms the immunocompromised and the elderly. It is hard to process giving up so much for the safety of others, and it is extremely mentally taxing. There has been slim to no instant gratification, and it seems as though COVID cases have only been on the rise, despite countless precautions and cancellations.
I implore all young adults to envision a world in which masks and social distancing are an item of the past. While simpler times appear and feel so distant, our missing prom, graduation, and other rites of passage ensure that one day we will be reunited with grandparents, immunocompromised friends, and those who depend on our conscious efforts simply to stay alive.
To all the parents of high schoolers, I also want to begin by saying that I’m sorry. Being particularly close with my parents, I knew how upset they were on my behalf. They had watched my high school experience unfold first-hand, more than any other. They saw me cry, want to give up, pull all-nighters, and bust my butt off – all for a celebration of myself that would never come.
Parents notice their children’s disappointment and want to take their pain and sadness away. In the case of COVID, this is an impossible feat. Nothing a parent could do would give his or her kids the prom, graduation, and celebration that they deserved. That does not mean, however, that there are not effective ways to comfort your child and ensure that he or she feels supported through such turbulent times.
Parents: ensure your child feels validated
The world is currently in an unprecedented place. Never could anyone have predicted that the entire world would pause for such an extended amount of time. It is because of the unconventionality of the present that we must all do our best to be understanding and empathetic of those we care about. It is necessary that parents understand that every emotion their children feel is valid, and it is also important that they reflect that understanding.
The culminating point of all their academic accomplishment was stripped from high school seniors, and young adults are now trapped indoors during the times they are supposed to explore newly-found independence. Remember that there is no right or wrong way for your child to feel, and do everything you can to ensure that you are a safe place for him or her to vent, cry, or strategize the coming years.
Parents: give your child supportive space
Being cramped up in a house – for months on end – is not something anyone would ask for. Yet, people all around the world were unfortunately thrust into this uncomfortable circumstance months ago and still find themselves living in it to this day. Being surrounded by family, while a blessing, can become overwhelming when considering the long timespan of the pandemic. Try to give your child space to grieve losses, connect with friends, and handle the pandemic in whatever way they think best. Ask them what you can do to help. Try to make sure they feel heard without feeling suffocated or overwhelmed.
Arrange events at home
While, realistically, nothing compares to having a prom hosted by your school or a graduation with your entire grade, there are still other enjoyable alternatives! While I was in quarantine, my parents planned a “From” (Fake Prom). I put on my prom dress and did my makeup. My parents also got dressed up for me, and the three of us danced all night.
While it was not the prom I was expecting, it was an amazing gesture by my parents and a night I will truly never forget. It made me feel supported and cared for, and I felt truly validated in my general sadness about missing such key events of my adolescent life. Planning COVID-safe events, whether that be a drive-by celebration, a socially-distant outdoor picnic, or a “From”, is a sure way to make your child feel special, loved, and celebrated during times when it is so easy to feel none.
To both young adults and parents: remember that this, too, shall pass. Celebrate your many accomplishments and always stay optimistic. Look forward to the day when you will be able to set up a makeshift graduation with your best friends, or travel the world as a postgraduate celebration. Last, and certainly not least, don’t forget: mask up!