“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
When Charles Dickens wrote those words in “A Tale of Two Cities,” it’s a safe bet that he didn’t have the Class of 2021 on his mind. He certainly wasn’t thinking of COVID-19. But the words he wrote so long ago have certainly summed up the senior year experienced by the Class of 21.
Representing this year’s senior class, six local students spoke about their take on what has been a challenging senior year. Katelyn Johnson of Southeast Bulloch High School, Kate Lattner of Trinity Christian School, Marlee Williams of Bulloch Academy, Staclyn Durrence of Statesboro High, Craig Flemming of Portal Middle High, and Derrick Solomon of Statesboro STEAM each spoke of the trials and triumphs they’ve experienced this year, and what they’ve learned as a result.
Each of the students has experienced loss this year, having had trips and school events canceled due to COVID. They’ve also had to adjust to the ups and downs of virtual and in-person classes. The challenges have been tough, but each student says they have had as normal a senior year as is possible in the current circumstance.
“I have had the opportunity to attend school in person for my senior year,” said Lattner. “As a small school, social distancing is more easily enforced, so in-person classes have been offered to all students. I decided that I was comfortable with this, so I have been on campus for all of my classes.”
Williams attends school in person as well, and says she has only missed three weeks of school due to quarantine. Flemming missed three weeks due to having COVID, and says he’s attending school currently face to face.
Durrence says she made the choice to attend school in person, while Solomon attends in person every other day of the week. He lost about five months of senior year while at home, attending online classes. Johnson has one in-person class at Southeast Bulloch, and is enrolled dually at Georgia Southern. She takes those classes online.
“The school choice was an agreement by my parents and me,” said Johnson. “We figured it would be easier to take pre-calculus in person rather than taking it online.” She says she felt like she lost a lot of opportunities this year that clubs and activities would have afforded her during her senior year.
Facing unique challenges
The biggest challenge for this group of students, they say, has been the uncertainty of the future.
“Regardless of COVID, we never know what tomorrow will bring,” said Lattner, “but this pandemic has been a rude awakening for me. I like to plan and prepare, but in times like this, it sometimes seems pointless.”
Lattner says it’s been challenging both academically and personally to stay motivated, and it’s been hard to not become indifferent or calloused when events are continually postponed or canceled.
“I’ve had to push myself to not take any day for granted and adapt as plans change, making the most out of any situation,” she said.
“I had issues staying motivated to do school work. My family, friends and teachers helped me concentrate, but it was difficult at times. I never thought that being isolated from people for so long would have such a toll on me mentally,” he said.
Johnson says she has also lost valuable time with her peers.
“Most of my friends are virtual students. Our communication has been mainly phone calls or video chats. I really miss the face-to-face interactions with my friends. Due to COVID, we have been unable to gather to celebrate our senior year,” she said.
Flemming says it was difficult to be separated from his closest friends. For Durrence, it was challenging to be quarantined and then come back to the school with everyone else. She also struggled with not being able to participate in cheerleading, an important activity for her, particularly during senior year.
“I missed out on cheering my last football game on Womack Field,” she said. “Personally, a challenge to me is not having things as normal when it comes to cheer, such as cheer competitions being run very differently, and being anxious to know if you’re going to get quarantined.”
Flemming says he was looking forward to playing football his senior year, but the season was canceled before the last three games could be played. He added that his class has also had its senior trip canceled.
Solomon says that he had to miss out on prom and BETA convention, and since it’s his last year, he was looking forward to attending both.
Johnson says she missed out on several annual club conferences and competitions, and the opportunity to meet with other students from around the state. For Lattner, the biggest loss was the junior-senior trip to Europe, which she had been working toward for some time.
“My family has been saving up for it for years, but the trip was recently officially canceled. While not surprising, it was still very disappointing,” she said.
Williams says she missed out on her first day of school as a senior, something she had looked forward to.
“I was in quarantine the first two days of my senior year because one of the girls on my softball team had tested positive for COVID,” she said. She also missed pep rallies, a tradition during football season at Bulloch Academy. As the school mascot, Williams said that without pep rallies, she wasn’t able to don the gator costume, and lost “something that never failed to put a smile on my face.”
It hasn’t been all bad, though. Many activities were adjusted to accommodate social distancing, to make it safe for all in attendance. Lattner was able to attend a bonfire instead of the usual homecoming dance. There were several bonfires lit, so that students could spread out. She was also able to participate in cross country track and hopes to participate in soccer as well.
Johnson says her school held its senior breakfast outside on the football field on a cold winter day.
“We had to bring our blankets and lawn chairs. Social distancing was required,” she said. She also participated in basketball, as well as club meetings, with some meeting in person and some virtual.
Although he wasn’t able to complete his football season, Flemming says he was able to participate in part of the season, as well as summer training.
“We had to follow strict guidelines, such as training in small groups, wiping down equipment after every use, and not being able to shake hands with the other team,” he said.
Uncertainty in the days to come
Johnson says she’s been concerned about the ever-increasing number of cases in the Bulloch County area, and the possibility of another shutdown.
“Another shutdown will affect my classes, prom and graduation,” she said.
Durrence is also fearful of another shutdown, and what that would mean for her last opportunities to cheer in high school. Likewise, Williams is fearful that there won’t be a graduation ceremony.
“Since I was in middle school, I have always been so excited to walk across the stage and receive my diploma. As of right now, my graduation is still scheduled and should happen according to plan, unless we have a large rise in COVID cases in May,” Williams said.
Flemming says he doesn’t want the “senior nightmare” to carry over and affect end-of-year celebrations.
“My biggest fear is repeating the senior nightmare of last year and not being able to have a traditional graduation ceremony with friends and family,” he said.
Solomon was worried about getting COVID, but as the year progressed, his fears changed.
“I was worried about missing out on one of the most important times of my life and not experiencing it to the fullest of what it could offer,” he said.
Lattner says her fears reach beyond high school. She’s concerned about going into college during the pandemic.
“It’s such a big adjustment anyway, and I’m afraid that handling all of the COVID procedures on top of that will become overwhelming. I most likely won’t have an in-person orientation and will probably still have to take some online classes in the fall which isn’t an ideal freshman experience,” she said.
Durrence says her best memory of her senior year was when she and her cheer team went to region, winning with only 10 girls.
“I will cherish memories like these forever. Also, being able to represent the senior class on homecoming court,” she said.
A team event was also Lattner’s best memory. She says the state cross country meet was the best one so far for her.
“I’ve been on the team since sixth grade, so this day was the culmination of seven years of running. It was a bittersweet moment, but mainly it was such a joy to be able to come away from the season with such great friends and memories,” she said.
Solomon says his greatest memories of his senior year were the times spent in class with his peers and teachers.
For Johnson, her memory is yet to come.
“I am anticipating that graduation will be my best memory of my senior year. I will finally have completed this part of my journey and walking across the stage and receiving my diploma will make it official. I am looking forward to sharing this experience with my classmates,” she said.
As for their worst memories, for most of the students, the experience had to do with the impact of COVID.
“The worst memory from my senior year could be that we did not get to do all the things that make a senior year special, like not having my last ever homecoming dance,” said Williams.
Lattner agrees, and echoes the sentiment for the entire group.
“There hasn’t been a specific moment that I would call my worst memory, but it was upsetting to realize that I wouldn’t have the full senior year experience; I will never be able to experience those moments that so many others have before me,” she said.
“It was a long year, and there’s probably more to come, but I’m glad I had family and friends to motivate me and keep me moving forward,” Solomon said.
Getting prepped for college
But despite all the uncertainty, each student has managed to prepare for college, with some able to participate in virtual tours and meetings.
Durrence plans to attend Georgia Southern, where she hopes to cheer and work toward her goal of becoming a pediatric nurse. She says she’s preparing for that by “making sure I am responsible when it comes to academics and keeping my grades up.”
Williams, who has been dually enrolled in college classes since her junior year, will also attend Georgia Southern, and plans to major in Exercise Science, and then go on to get her master’s degree in Athletic Training.
Johnson says she has prepared for her academic future by being dually enrolled, and participating in virtual tours and meetings with colleges. She is planning to become a certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA).
Flemming is planning to attend Georgia Southern as a pre-med student, and will further his education at Augusta University on his path to becoming at cardiologist. He’s been dually enrolled since sophomore year.
Solomon hopes to attend Georgia Southern as well, and major in computer science. He’s been taking dual enrollment classes, as well as classes in his chosen career path. He wants a career in technical engineering.
Lattner is planning to attend the University of Georgia, and major in Communication Science and Disorders so she can become a speech therapist. She has spent time this last year talking with those already in college, listening to their experiences.
“Hearing their experiences has helped me better gauge what this fall will look like, as well as comfort me in that they’ve still enjoyed this year even though it looks different. I also have had to accept that I can only prepare for so much, and that this year’s motto is ‘expect the unexpected,’” she said.