Class of COVID-2021

For Clarke County School District students, our “extended spring break” turned into now seven months and counting of social distancing, and wearing face masks. When I first heard of COVID-19, I said to myself “It won’t reach the U.S., China is so far away.” I remember when I read a CNN article reporting the first death in the United States. I didn’t think much of it and thought it would somehow be controlled. 

Instead, the cases grew and grew. Events that I was looking forward to kept getting canceled. On April 1, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that all schools would close for the academic year. School canceled for the rest of the year? A dream come true, right? For me, it was awful. I would not be able to see my friends and teachers in person. Our plans to celebrate the last day of school vanished. I could not believe that I would not finish my junior year in person. 

The last day of school felt like just another day. Usually on the last day of school everyone looks forward to plans after school with friends. Instead, I didn’t have any more assignments to turn in on Google Classroom.  I thought about what my friends and I would have done. I eventually accepted reality: I would not see my friends anytime soon, and I had so many things to do to prepare for my senior year. 

I barely had a list of colleges and universities of interest. I had to focus on thinking more about where I want to study. I started to research scholarships. I wanted to feel more prepared and less unorganized. I didn’t even know where to start with the application process. My Google searches consisted of “What is Commonapp?” or “Best ideas for college essays” and “Tips on how to make your college applications stand out.” 

Due to the virus, many colleges and universities are now test-optional. I am still trying to decide if I should retake my ACT and SAT. I’m worried that if I don’t turn them in, my chances of getting into certain schools will decrease. I am trying to qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship, but they have not announced if ACT and SAT scores will be optional. What if I cannot take my tests? How will I qualify for Zell Miller? I don’t want to put the pressure on my parents to pay for my college tuition. 

I want to visit colleges in person. It’s strange to think about applying to schools without first walking through the campuses and meeting people. I keep receiving emails from Mercer University about an opportunity to meet with admissions counselors and current students and take a guided tour in person. If we were not in a pandemic I would register for these events the minute I received the e-mail. As much as I wish I could attend, I don’t feel safe. Another event gone thanks to the virus. 

By the middle of July, CCSD delayed the start of school for a month. In the past, I always wanted school to start in Sept. I always wanted that extra month of summer. A few of my friends start school in Sept. as well. Now, however, I was eager to start sooner rather than later. While glad that we did not have to return in person, sitting at a screen for most of my day made me sad. I miss the crowded Cedar Shoals hallways that were so full of life with students. I miss meeting up with my friends in between classes to talk about how our day was going so far. I miss connecting with new people during after-school clubs. 

On Oct. 9, CCSD announced that students in grades pre-K through eighth will be able to return for in-person instruction. High school students will potentially return in Jan. Even though this is positive news, I’m not sure if it’s safe for any students to return. I worry that around winter break, cases will rise again after University of Georgia students come back to Athens. While I do want to return, I do not want to put my family at risk.  

Despite the negative circumstances, I’m finding ways to make this year memorable. I will always remember the jokes over Zoom, playing Minecraft or Among Us with friends, and learning how to use Zoom and Google Meet for school and extracurriculars. I think that knowing how to use these virtual conference platforms will be beneficial for me in college and future jobs.  

One of my extracurriculars, Hispanic Organization for Promoting Education, has inspiring virtual sessions that are both empowering and fun. We have monthly retreats where we connect with fellow members. We also learn valuable lessons ranging from leadership to public speaking.

I used to focus so much on the negatives of living during the pandemic. Even though it seems like most of my senior year will be online, I can see positive developments. I used to think that people cannot connect through a screen. I have been proven wrong. My new teachers this year are incredible, and I’m glad I can still form a connection with them even if it’s through a web camera. One of my teachers assigned us an essay where we had to write about what the class means to us. I saw it as a way to introduce myself. She asks us often about what we want to study in the future. She has made an effort to get to know all of us. 

The vision I have of the future is blurry right now, but I can still see my graduation. I look forward to wearing that blue gown. I will receive my diploma with my family watching. When I graduate, my family will be proud, since I will be one of the first to graduate from high school. 

After graduation, my friends and I have plans for a senior trip. We cannot decide if we should take a road trip around Georgia or spend a week at the beach. Even though we may not know what life will be like next summer, it’s exciting to plan it. 

Despite the obstacles that this year has thrown on me, I have found that it’s better to focus on the positive outcomes rather than sulk on the unfortunate events. Our senior year has not been ruined, it has simply altered. I’m not sure of what will happen next, but no matter what it is I know that I can continue to look forward to the next milestones of my life.

Stephany Gaona-Perez

Stephany Gaona Perez is a senior Co-Editor in Chief for the BluePrints Magazine. She has attended both the Georgia Scholastic Press Association and Southern Interscholastic Press Association. Gaona-Perez is interested in both Criminal Justice and Journalism as possible fields of work, such as a Paralegal, Criminal Investigator, or working as a writer for a magazine/newspaper. She wants to graduate this year knowing that her fellow staff members are prepared to make excellent content and is looking forward to being a mentor for her peers.