COURTESY OF JOHN HULTQUIST
A common superstition is that bad things happen on Friday the 13th. Friday, March 13, marked the end of my in-person education at Fenwick High School, a private school in Oak Park, Illinois. My sister and I vlogged on my Snapchat story: “Here it is, what could be the last day of our senior year. I hate the coronavirus.” Saying this, I got home in time to watch Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announce he was closing K-12 public and private schools throughout the State of Illinois for at least two weeks.
High school seniors, like me, who applied early decision already knew where we were going to school. I was enrolled at Fordham University and was excited to have locked down my plan for the fall. Other classmates, like my twin sister, Taylor, who had not yet committed early to a school, were stuck adapting to what was going to be the ongoing stress of deciding which college or university to choose. Universities were doing the best they could with online visits and video presentations, but it was nothing like being there. Taylor finally settled on Villanova University, grateful that she had visited the campus to aid her decision before the world shut down.
For the next several weeks the rest of the country followed what seemed to be countless stay-at-home orders. I adapted with my fellow senior classmates to the world of online learning. Fenwick utilized Schoology and Zoom to accommodate this unique and never-before-tested learning environment. When I was not online learning, my family passed the time with social media, watching Netflix and doing endless puzzles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many new challenges to my family like so many other families. I must admit that, while it has not always been without conflict, I have really come to cherish our time together, as I know it will not be long before our lives will be crazier than ever.
Finishing high school was no worry for Taylor and me. We are excited for our social distanced high school graduation ceremony to take place, even with participants wearing masks, practicing social distancing and not having our parents in the audience. The ceremony will be one step closer to feeling like there is closure from high school. The Class of 2020 has lost so many cherished memories that could have been made at senior prom, spring varsity sports seasons and an in-person baccalaureate Mass.
Millennials and Generation Z have sought out new ways of figuring out how to keep busy. I spent the first half of the summer taking a New York University (NYU) online course called “Covering the COVID-19 Pandemic.” We started a website called Six Feet Forward and covered a variety of topics, all related to the coronavirus and how our country was starting to reopen.
Unfortunately, The New York Times reported 218,897 new cases of coronavirus on July 11, causing me to wonder whether it would be more appropriate to rename the site “Six Feet Backward.” Throughout the course, we found that the United States continues to struggle and figure out how to safely reopen. Whatever happens going forward, it is clear to the incoming freshman class and other college students that this upcoming school year will be unlike any other.
Finding ways to connect to incoming Fordham students has been easy despite everyone being online. Given the circumstances that we find ourselves in, we made almost an instant connection. Through my NYU course, I was able to meet people sharing similar fears of the unknown of our upcoming freshman year. Through reflection and conversation, we have come to realize that the incoming freshman class is all in this together. We will be bonded by the chaos and all of the missed memories created by the pandemic at the end of our high school careers. The great irony, of course, is that the pandemic might have made us lose memories of our senior year, but it also enabled us to make memories that will be with us forever.
When June 28 brought the New York State Department of Health’s “Interim Guidance for Higher Education during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” there was more hope New York City would reach Phase 4, before reopening universities like Fordham. With grim weeks in store until school is supposed to open for the fall semester, the most important thing to note is that the safety of students and the entire Fordham community will be the university’s top priority.
Despite the Chronicle of Higher Education suggesting that only 58% of colleges and universities are planning for an in-person fall semester, I am looking forward and feeling prepared. I am confident that my high school education has prepared me well for Fordham. I’m also confident after meeting other Fordham freshmen and interacting with students during my summer course at NYU that freshmen everywhere have a “we can do this” attitude. We have persevered through the end of a chaotic last semester of high school and have ridden a roller coaster this summer, listening to colleges speculate about life on campus in the fall — when we all know that no one really knows what that will be like. Whatever the fall brings, however, the incoming freshman Class of 2024 will stand together.