Senior year is arguably the most important year in high school for making the transition into adulthood. However, many seniors see this year as their last opportunity to make memories, have fun, and enjoy each other’s company for the last time. Along with the pressure of college applications and other responsibilities, senior year is also an important time for students to celebrate their hard work together, especially at Berkeley High School (BHS), where traditions such as Red and Gold Day set expectations for memorable senior year experiences and create a feeling of anticipation. However, the COVID-19 pandemic will make the class of 2021’s experience feel very different.
There is no masking the fact that the pandemic has changed a lot about this year at BHS, but some seniors are trying to keep up the old spirit. The Instagram account @bhs_2en1ors, which has labeled itself the ‘official BHS seniors account,’ posts information about spirit week, prom, and pranks exclusively for the class of ‘21. While other classes at BHS have created accounts like this one before, @bhs_2en1ors has a difficult job: uniting seniors from a distance. “The pandemic seems to have put a pretty significant dent in the expectations and excitement of a lot of seniors concerning their ‘senior year experience,’” said the account owners, who wished to remain anonymous. They have observed that this year has been hard for a lot of seniors, explaining that “people seem to feel extremely isolated during what was supposed to be a high-spirit, celebratory time for us.”
Because of this year’s unique circumstances, almost all senior events and activities have been cut out of students’ lives. This has put an abrupt stop to traditions that have been around for decades. “[Red and Gold Day is] one main tradition that we’ve had at Berkeley High that’s been going way back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. So, something that is larger than just one grade,” said BHS Director of Student Activities John Villavicencio. As a result, students’ morale has been pretty low these last few months. “I’ve also heard many people say that they don’t feel like seniors, there was no transition so the label has lost its flare,” said the account owners of @bhs_2en1ors. Although many feelings surrounding school spirit have been negative, some students are fighting hard to keep senior activities alive. “We’ve gotten some photos of people who have met with their friends to design senior shirts so that tradition is at least partially still in effect,” said the account owners about another annual tradition, customizing “senior” shirts with a nickname on the back.
With the joint efforts of the school and various groups of seniors, there is hope that certain events can happen safely. “Berkeley High is such a large community … so when there are [events] where we are all unified and celebrating it’s pretty special,” said Charlotte Thornton, the president of the class of 2021, a senior in Academic Choice (AC). Thornton admits that the pandemic has greatly affected her senior year; she’s been looking forward to it since sixth grade. However, she emphasized that keeping seniors united despite the pandemic is very important. “My priority for this year is to unify the senior class as much as we can,” she said. Thornton and others in leadership have been brainstorming and “have some plans in the works to safely organize some events and are creating an online presence.”
A few themed gatherings such as a Chalk Day and a Movie Night have also been organized through Instagram, but had low turnouts. In addition to these events, the leadership team has been creating remote support for seniors in the form of Spotify playlists, mental health threads, and more. On September 20, @bhs_2en1ors has plans for a Senior Sunset event where a group will be watching the sunset from a spot in the Berkeley hills. “People will stay in their cars or sit outside at a distance, some may bring hot chocolate or a blanket,” they said.
2020 is proving to be a very unique year, and it has impacted students from all over the world. At BHS, seniors have been deprived of decade long traditions and close connections with their peers. Despite these lost experiences, many are making efforts to unite the group and have a year that’s as close to normal as possible. “To all the seniors out there, I want you to know you have a community you can reach out to any time. I know this year feels hopeless, but let’s try and make the best of it,” Thornton said. This sentiment is shared with the BHS seniors instagram account: “It is our last year after all, and I think we can all agree that we should make the most of it. ‘21 is such a powerful collection of creative people and I think that by utilizing that spirit, we can make this year as good as we possibly can at the time.”