Missing senior year: an unexpected COVID-19 consequence

High school and college seniors reckon with missing out on their final school experiences.


Credit: UVA Today

Catherine Harvey, Contributor

On March 16, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order closing all public schools in the state until April 1. Following this order, New York City schools followed suit, closing until April 20 at the earliest. As the COVID-19 crisis worsened, these closings were extended until mid-May. Now, New York City schools are not slated to open until September.

One of the most heavily affected groups of students in all this is high school and college seniors, who are seeing postponements and cancellations of events like prom and commencement. The uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation is making it difficult for school administrators and teachers to plan alternatives.

On the college front, some city schools like New York University have announced that they will be holding online commencement ceremonies with conditional events later down the line when social distancing practices are relaxed enough for large gatherings. The University has been working to find alternatives to the traditional May commencement and has seemingly found its solution: virtual, class-specific ceremonies on Zoom, and an in-person ceremony for the class of 2020 in the winter, with an opportunity to walk in graduation with the class of 2021 next May. Even though these winter ceremonies will be held, they won’t be in Radio City Music Hall, where University commencements are typically held, something that students have called disappointing. Additionally, students who would prefer the Radio City ceremony may be out of luck if they live in, or plan to move to, another area of the country. Other schools across the nation are considering drive-in commencements, in which everyone stays in their cars.

New York City public schools are in an equally unsure situation, and their teachers don’t have much information either. “We may have [graduation] in the summer if the quarantine lets up, or try to do something over Zoom at least for all of them to get together virtually,” said Karen Gomez, a teacher at an NYC public high school. “My assistant principal is very close with the seniors, so she is being as honest as she can while also trying to find alternatives.”

In addition to the public health aspect, the NYC school situation is being exacerbated by a long-standing feud between NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo; the pair have been at odds on many issues relative to local and state governments. Cuomo claims de Blasio has no authority to close schools for a long period of time.

While it is logistically a nightmare for officials, missing senior year has had a big impact on students like one high school senior from New Jersey, Pia Paola Gonzalez. Gonzalez likely won’t miss high school as a whole, but that doesn’t make this any less difficult, saying “I don’t really miss school, but I do miss seeing my friends.”

Much of students’ time in school is defined by the relationships they develop, and seniors in both high school and college are dealing with an abrupt end to many of the friendships they’ve cultivated over the last few years. While the postponement and cancellation of these events is the right choice from a public health perspective and will help flatten the curve, it’s a sad way to end what is often a rough four years.