Today, May 29th 2020, was meant to be one of the happiest days of my life: high school graduation. A day to celebrate 12 years of hard work. The beginning of a new chapter. A milestone. Yet, today seems like just another day. (Well, not necessarily just another day, but another day trapped in the house, during a worldwide pandemic.)
Letting it all sink in
When we first heard about the coronavirus, it honestly seemed like a flu—something that would go away within a few weeks. But then the school announced its two week closure at the beginning of March. Then an additional three weeks. Then notice that we wouldn’t be coming back at all—that DP exams were canceled, and that our graduation would likely not happen (or if it did, it would be a drive-thru ceremony, or a recorded version over Zoom).
As a senior, I’m finding it difficult not to think about all the many things that the Class of 2020 is missing out on: the senior prank, senior skip day, the procession around the school, taking photos together in our caps and gowns.
And while I know that so many people around the world are facing much worse situations than ours, it doesn’t take away from the utter disappointment.
For many, this whole experience has been very difficult to accept, and at each step of the way there have been so many unknowns. How long will school be shut down for? Will we sit our exams in May? Nope, so how will the IB grade us? Will we have cap and gown photos? Will we have a virtual graduation? As each question was answered, hundreds of more questions arose— many of which are still unanswered.
Noa R, a senior at AISB, remembers, “At first I was hopeful. When we went home I thought, ‘Oh ok, we will stay at home for 2-3 weeks and then we will be back.’” Oliver S on the other hand, just didn’t believe that the pandemic would affect him at all. “When my mum said that [the coronavirus] would come to Romania, I didn’t believe it,” he says. “When the school closed, my mum said this might be your last day of school, and I didn’t believe that either. I downplayed the whole thing really badly. Even when we closed down the school I didn’t believe that it would be closed for long.”
IB Exams Canceled and University Concerns
But when the IB announced that exams were canceled, we were all in shock. Many of us had discussed the possibility, but no one thought it would become a reality. “At first, I was happy, thinking ‘I don’t need to study anymore,’” says Noa. “But the feeling of relief quickly went away.”
The exams, while extremely stressful, were the culmination of two years of studying—two years of pulling all-nighters, writing essays, analyzing texts, making case studies, and doing as many practice papers as possible. In many classes, up to 80 percent of our grade was based solely on these exams, and for the two years, every class and every homework assignment went towards preparing us for these exams. So for them to be canceled, it feels like all the work we have done was for nothing.
And while the IB assured us that we would be awarded a diploma or a course certificate, despite exam scores, and that our final grades would be “based on student’s coursework and the established assessment expertise, rigor and quality control already built into the programmes,” we weren’t convinced.
Will our predicted grades be enough for universities? And if so, will our classes start over Zoom? What about the students who opted for gap years—will travel restrictions be lifted, or will they spend their first year of freedom trapped under their parents’ roof?
High School Counselor Lindsay Kehl says that “Universities all over the world are grappling with the choices in front of them. Some have decided to go online for the first semester, like the whole California State system. Others, like Notre Dame or John Cabot in Rome, have adjusted their schedule, so they plan to start early and end the semester earlier than planned. It’s likely that we’ll see the larger universities go to online learning for a bit, while the smaller universities might be able to get creative with spaces and continue in person.”
The Graduation Ceremony
For the majority of us, missing out on our graduation ceremony and dinner is one of the worst parts about all of this. Graduation is so many things and it is a moment that we have all looked forward to for years. It’s a celebration of all of our hard work and dedication. It’s a way to say goodbye to everyone and move on to a different chapter of our lives.
“The graduation situation feels weird since we have no clue whether it will be virtual or not,” says Toyosi A. “And I know myself and a couple of my friends can’t help but feel underwhelmed since the year went off with a whimper rather than a bang, with exams being canceled and everything. The joy and excitement of graduation and prom has sort of died out with it.”
The AISB administration and the student graduation committee have been working hard to give us the best graduation experience possible, in these difficult times. They have been considering alternatives to a virtual exhibition and want the ceremony on the 13th of June to be in person. However, even with restrictions loosening, we’re prepared for a virtual graduation, with student and teacher speeches, and an awards ceremony on Zoom.
Noa says that without the fanfare of an actual in-person ceremony, it doesn’t feel real. “Seeing the other classes before us get their time to shine and not us…It’s a pride thing. You want to show people that you made it and that you’ve accomplished something…especially doing the IB.”
People all around the world are giving recognition to the class of 2020, with schools coming up with creative solutions in order to give this year’s seniors their graduation. Some schools have spread the students out in parking lots where they can have a ceremony together but safely distanced apart, while a school in Ohio is hand delivering the diplomas to each student’s house. On the 6th of June, Barack and Michelle Obama are organizing a global virtual commencement ceremony live on Youtube called “Dear Class of 2020,” where there will be numerous speakers and musical performances.
But is this enough?
For international school students in particular, this is our last time to be together. Once we graduate, we move on to different places. “That is the part that makes me really, really sad and disappointed,” says Jade. “Some of these people I will probably never see again.”
Noa jokes that “Even though our grade isn’t some hippy happy, holding hands community, we don’t mind being with each other. We like being a class, so having a virtual graduation we won’t be able to experience the gratitude together.”
I know for me, I was counting on these last few months to spend time with my best friends—especially once exams were over. It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that we had our last day of school without knowing. And that our last memories are being made over Zoom.
“The idea that we won’t ever be able to go back to school is sad,” says Noa. “This seems like such a small thing, but if you think about it, it’s because school is where we did everything leading up to this point with all our friends and teachers. Not being able to experience the last day together while knowing that it is our last day together makes it difficult to accept. There is no closure for me right now because we didn’t know that that Tuesday was going to be our last day, ever.”
Jade highlighted how important our teachers have been for us throughout the years when she said, “Not being able to thank them is sad. This has been hard on them as well, having to deal with all of us being stressed. It sucks that we aren’t able to thank them, because we don’t know if we will see them again.”
This pandemic hasn’t just affected our graduation, but also our senior trip to Barcelona, which has been canceled. It would have been our last chance to be together as a grade— the chance to lie on the beach drinking cocktails, walking through the beautiful streets, admiring the Basílica de la Sagrada Família, and eating at tapas bars. Instead, many of us are worrying about whether university will start in the fall and whether we will be able to get home to visit our families.
The past few months have been an emotional rollercoaster, which at times I felt only went down, but it’s important that we stay positive and think instead about all we are lucky for rather than thinking about what we have missed out on. I want to thank all of my classmates for keeping spirits high and making this the best experience it could possibly be. This is definitely a graduation to remember, and one day it’s a story I know I’ll tell my children and grandchildren.
Kehl says that “when a group of people goes through something difficult together, it is an opportunity for them to step together and become stronger because of it. Maybe there won’t be a senior trip this year, but that doesn’t mean that in the future the Class of 2020 won’t have a chance to reunite in the future. Chances are you’ll be closer and stronger than ever because you’ve gone through something together that no one else has.”
Although it hasn’t been the ideal way to finish school, it doesn’t take away from the amazing memories that we have made throughout the years. We should all be proud of everything that we’ve accomplished, and use this experience in order to push ourselves to do great things.
Congratulations to the Class of 2020!