Last week, The Washington Post released an article titled, “The Class of 2020: Graduating into a pandemic.” Twelve seniors, from high school and college, were interviewed about their academic and personal experiences, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their education and next steps.
One of those seniors is Andrea Anaya, currently a student at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Md., and an incoming freshman who plans to major in Politics at Marymount.
Below are portions of an article originally featured on The Washington Post’s website.
This year’s graduates were only kids when the first iPhone came out. Facebook wasn’t around to capture their births, but by 2009, when today’s high school graduates turned 7, there were 350 million users documenting porch smiles on the first day of school and superheroes on Halloween patrol.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that their final months of high school, or the end of their college careers, have unspooled on the Internet. But this particular iteration of online life has brought mostly sadness. If you’ve studied for four years, dreaming of the final weeks of school, with its freedom and light, pranks and parties, how do you settle for a sign on the lawn declaring, “Congratulations, Class of 2020!”?
They’ve known hardship before. Situated demographically on the leading edge of Generation Z, they can’t remember a time when the twin towers touched the clouds over Manhattan, or when the United States was not at war. They lived through the Great Recession.
Now, college graduates are launching themselves into the worst job market since the Great Depression. Some high school graduates are, too. Others face the possibility that a virus that destroyed the end of high school will also cancel the start of college.
And yet they move on, writing their final papers and logging on for their last classes. They cherish found time with family and Zoom life with friends. The “Congratulations, Class of 2020!” signs pale against expectations, but eyes still fill with happy tears when they are delivered, when a caravan of teachers drives by honking, when a beloved principal waves from the sidewalk.
The pandemic has upended the final months for the Class of 2020 in ways tiny and profound, academic and economic, social and emotional. These graduates — six leaving high school, six finishing college — offer 12 slices of a story that they, and we, will be telling for decades to come.
Now: John F. Kennedy High School, Silver Spring, Md. | Next: Marymount University
Senior year started in a way Andrea Anaya couldn’t have imagined as a freshman.
Anaya had moved from El Salvador as a child, and the rhetoric about border walls and law-breaking immigrants back then cast long shadows on her sense of possibility. She skipped classes and didn’t pay attention when she did go.
“I didn’t really care about my future because I really didn’t see one,” she says.
But in time, she found inspiration in classmates who pushed ahead despite hardships, and in teachers who really saw her — not as a teenager who didn’t care, but as a student with spark and drive who only needed a reason.
By senior year, she’d been elected class president. Every afternoon, she interned in a congressman’s Maryland field office, a position she got after landing a summer gig on Capitol Hill. The year was a swirl of college applications and scholarship searches and school activities.
Now, Anaya is at home, caring for her siblings, ages 3, 7 and 12, while her mother and grandmother work. How much is lost has dawned on her slowly.
“I was numb,” she says. “Now I’m just really disappointed.”
She thinks of the graduation speech she had once expected to give, before a crowd in the historic grandeur of DAR Constitution Hall. She might have said she was not supposed to be here. Or that she has learned that no matter what goes wrong, there is a way to overcome it.
College looms, as does a final story or two for the school newspaper. One topic she will write about: mental health in times of covid-19.
“As an immigrant, that’s been my life — fearing for the future,” she says. “Now everyone is fearing for the future.”