COVID-19 has been a huge setback for the class of 2020. Traditional celebrations such as prom and graduation were cancelled, and all final high school farewells were turned into awkward virtual ordeals. The loss of important moments didn’t end there — summer trips were postponed and the now-graduated class is currently facing an uncertain college future. However, many graduates are doing their best to make their year memorable.
Abby Sanchez, a Berkeley High School (BHS) class of 2020 graduate and new student at Barnard College in New York City, said the constant change of plans has been detrimental to her mental health. “When I heard that my school was going online completely, I was really, really honestly terrified,” said Sanchez. “I was scared that I’d have to spend another year [at home] and with what my home life was like.” When Sanchez was given the chance to live on campus in a COVID-19 safe dorm, she jumped on the opportunity and flew across the country to Barnard. “Obviously, being away from home has its own set of challenges. But my mental health has been better now that I am in a place that I can be fully autonomous,” she said.
Although Sanchez says she’s very grateful for the chance to live at Barnard, she has still had trouble feeling connected to the school. “I don’t feel like I’m a part of Barnard even though I’m on campus, just because so much is closed and there’s barely anyone here,” Sanchez said, “I don’t even feel so attached to it.” Sanchez dove right into the first year of online college, but the impersonal schooling and lack of a community has made it hard for her to tell whether it’s worth it or not. “I think if Barnard is online next year, I’ll take a gap year…. I wouldn’t want half of my college life to be without the social aspect [of the college experience],” she said.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Sanchez’s opportunity to live in a dorm has been a rare one. Instead, many students are participating in their online classes from their homes in Berkeley. Natalie Couch, a BHS class of 2020 graduate who is now attending Harvey Mudd College, has been attending all of her college classes from her bedroom. Although she agrees that the lack of an on-campus life is disappointing, living at home has made it easier for her to pay for college this semester. Owing to the smaller size of Mudd, Couch found that the college has been “better able to support students during the pandemic,” and that her professors have been very understanding in terms of the limitations of technology. “If you don’t get full points on [an] assignment, then you can go ask your professor, ‘How do I make this work?’,” she said, explaining how her college professors have made accommodations and helped students understand confusing platforms.
It’s been difficult to adapt to the drastic change in schooling, but by now class of 2020 students like Couch and Sanchez are used to it. “You just have to accept that you’re not really going to be able to do what you would have done on campus,” said Couch. Instead, both she and Sanchez have learned to make the best out of their situations and have found their own ways to stay socially connected. Sanchez has spent her time with her suite-mate roaming the streets of New York City, taking advantage of her college’s free entry passes to museums and other open art spaces. “Exploring New York City has become our social event,” she said. Although there are many downsides to moving online, Couch has found that it also makes it easier to stay in touch with old high school friends.
A few BHS alumni, including Daphne Eleftheriadou, have decided to defer their first year of college. Eleftheriadou had originally planned to attend Berklee College of Music — a university in Boston — to follow her dream of becoming a singer and songwriter. When she found out that the school was going completely online without a change in the tuition cost, she decided to take the year off. “I did not see the point in paying so much for a quarter of the college experience,” Eleftheriadou said. Instead, she found a work-away program — one which offers room and board in exchange for work — in Greece, where she holds citizenship. During the week she works on her host family’s farm and in their warehouse, while she tours the nearby city over the weekend. Eleftheriadou said she had never really considered taking a gap year before, as college had seemed like the only option and she had feared being left behind by her friends. However, after a month in Greece, Eleftheriadou realized that her experience was “something [she] really needed to do to start [her] life and gain some independence before diving back into textbooks.”“I think a lot of my experience [dealing with the pandemic] has partly to do with my mindset,” Elefthriadou remarked. “Once you graduate, you realize everyone is on their own timeline in life; there is no right time to do anything,” she said. Sanchez, Couch, and Elefthriadou have kept their focus on the positive, always moving forward. Right now, growing and adapting seems the best thing they, and we, can do.