Yesterday was my senior students’ last day of high school, and unfortunately it was virtual. It breaks both my heart and theirs. I came to know many from this 2020 class as juniors last year, my first year at Cartersville — and those of you who teach know how those kids you teach your first year (whatever “first” it may be) live in a special little place in your heart.
But this crew didn’t just carve out a niche, they climbed in and set up camp. And when we were all yanked apart eight weeks ago, my heart was left numb and aching.
I miss them like nobody’s business. They are a smart, fun-loving group, full of moxie and mirth, despite life being more than a little unfair to them.
Several of them I’ve had the honor of teaching two years in a row — last year in American Lit and this one in journalism. There’s one particular group of girls who’ve written about the impact coronavirus has had on their lives — everything from emotional turmoil to lost milestones and missing friends.
But while they do address the negatives, what I find profound and powerful is the grit and grace they’ve uncovered in themselves, despite the unforgiving situation. I find myself humbled and inspired by these young adults.
One bubbly eighteen year old with eyes blue as May skies and an outlook equally clear, explains how she finds comfort in the pandemic: “I completely lose myself in words. [I have a] need for music and reading. It’s a haven for me, a place for me to say and think what I want … It feels like a sense of worth to have what YOU need set down in writing.”
Ultimately, the one thing she hopes happens after this pandemic pause is that “the world can come together and act as a whole instead of being separated.” In the meantime, she wants the earth to “catch its breath and just be.”
Another student who never fails to maneuver through darkness in search of light inspires me more than she’ll ever know. This year was rocky for her, even before the shutdown, but she handled that upheaval with strength and resolve.
And now her year has been upended once again, but through it all, she’s remained optimistic. Sure, she has felt “down in the dumps,” but she also sees this as an opportunity to “hike, travel to beautiful gardens, walk, run, [and] work out.” She notes “how structured and unappreciative life used to seem, [when] most everyone took …everyday activities for granted.” Now, she’s determined to soak up the memories and moments until life resumes its normal pace.
A third senior with her own set of childhood ghosts has used her past to help her forge the future with confidence. She battled feelings of “not being enough” for a very long time, but along the way she’s gathered the wisdom to know better– and the foresight to know this pandemic will not beat her or her classmates.
“Seniors are strong and we will get through this. We might not finish this school year traditionally, but we are going to finish. You will not defeat our 2020 class. And we will be ready for wherever life takes us next.”
I don’t know about y’all, but I believe her.
And finally, a fourth senior, one with flawless hazelnut skin and an outlook far beyond her years blew me away with her words this week. She’s had a lot to juggle, caring for two young brothers at home and managing her own course load while her physician mother treats COVID19 patients. And though she admits to feeling proud of her mother, she has equal feelings of being robbed of her senior milestones.
“It makes me feel selfish, but people always say that the first step to recovery is admittance. So that means I’m not just dealing with the pain, I’m healing.”
I feel like what she says is just what this tenacious senior class is doing — dealing with the pain and healing. By seeking beauty and finding grace inside the struggle.
I would say I can’t wait to see where this world takes them, but then, the world’s not taking them anywhere. It’s definitely the other way around.