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A High School Senior Reflects on Graduating During a Pandemic 

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In mid-April, my friend and I left the parking lot of Montpelier's Main Street Middle School in our separate cars with a plan. We had signs and music to surprise our friends — twin sisters — on their 18th birthday. We drove onto their street and rolled down our windows, blasting music and letting the pouring rain fall into our cars. We stuck our heads out of our cars and yelled, "Happy birthday!" as our friends stood on their front porch smiling. It was an odd but exciting new way to celebrate. The pandemic has forced us to find new ways to mark holidays, birthdays and, this month, graduations.

When COVID-19 appeared in March, it felt like a dark cloud looming in the distance, not yet close enough to actually darken the sky. When schools first closed, my friends and I were excited for a few weeks of break, when we could sleep in and not worry about school. Our teachers posted assignments on Google Classroom and sent us dozens of emails a day. But we still believed we'd be going back to school.

Then the announcement came. Vermont high schools would be closed for the rest of the year. My friend called to tell me the news. It was as if that dark cloud had gradually shifted and was now blocking the sun completely. My parents came into my room and asked how I was. I told them I was fine, but after the shock had worn off, I realized I wasn't. My parents reminded me it was OK not to be fine, and then everything came crashing down. I broke into tears.

The milestone my classmates and I have been working toward for the past 12 years — graduation — isn't happening. Or at least it isn't happening in the way we expected. Many of us have seen friends or older siblings graduate before us. We watched the seniors each spring semester hanging out in the library, playing games and forgetting about their homework, counting down the days until graduation on a large whiteboard. It was impossible not to think about what it was going to be like for us. We imagined our graduation parties, picking out outfits for graduation or prom, and figuring out, as a class, what our senior prank would be.

Of course, some of what we imagined may now be romanticized because it was taken away from us. Graduation ceremonies are never like they are in the movies. Someone is bound to trip on the stage or stumble over a long speech while the graduates sit in their caps and gowns, baking in the sun. But we wanted those memories, imperfections and all. Now they will never even be created.

While COVID-19 has taken many things from us, it has also given us all the chance to realign our lives. It's been nice to shed the senior stress and just breathe. We stopped having to worry about waking up at 6 a.m. to get to school early to talk to a teacher about a test or homework assignment. We gained the opportunity to hit the reset button on our lives, if we wished.

This spring, I've never felt more in touch with myself and my interests. I reread the Harry Potter series, which reminded me how much I loved to read as a kid. I have been baking constantly, from simple chocolate chip cookies to a Bavarian apple torte, and have finally determined that classic rock and pop from the '50s through the '80s is my favorite type of music. Through socially distanced walks, my friends and I have become more in touch with our physical well-being. Many of us have rediscovered getting outside in nature and the beauty of Vermont. We have been given more time to spend with our families before we go off into the world on our own.

When COVID-19 became widespread in the U.S., I heard an interesting comment from some adults about the class of 2020's unique position. We were born right after the terrorist attacks of September 11 and are graduating amidst a world pandemic. We have grown up during a time of world conflict and war. We have seen corrupt politics and people in power who think they can do what they want without consequences. The security measures enacted in the aftermath of 9/11 made our childhoods different than any of those before us. And our easy access to the internet has created worries for our parents that never existed for their parents.

Also because of the internet, everything that occurs in the world is at our fingertips. Nothing is hidden from us. The class of 2020 sees the injustice in the world and not only speaks out against it, but also takes action. We protest and speak to our political representatives about changing policies related to gun violence, civil rights, educational equity, and the environment. We struggle to find a way to make an impact and care for each other.

I plan to attend the University of Vermont's nursing school this fall and hope to one day work in the field of world health ethics. I want to be involved in conversations about universal health care, creating stronger health care systems in underdeveloped areas and making access to health care more equitable.

During the past few months, I have seen the lack of resources and personal protective equipment for health care workers and the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on people of color and those who are incarcerated and low-income. This has only solidified my desire to participate in the world's shift around health care.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. I am ready to accept that responsibility.

Christianna Cecere is a student at Montpelier High School.

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