A Generation of Teens Are Left to Mourn What Could Have Been

I’ll be starting senior year of high school on a bittersweet note

Illustration: Kaia Ross

So much for looking forward to senior year being the time of my life.

I’m sure the last hurrah of high school is much more of an enigma than most people care to admit, but those who’ve already lived through it didn’t also have to deal with the anxiety of a global pandemic, or the extreme isolation that comes with it. I’ll be applying for colleges without the comfort of summer camp, the annual senior night at a theme park, or whatever else is considered a classic high school experience, something I may never see fully for myself.

I’d developed so many ways to cope with quarantine — learning to bake, taking bike rides — but by now those distractions have run their course. I’m so bored I started writing a Spider-Man comic. No offense to Spider-Man, but I consider that a close cousin to hitting rock bottom. Everyone’s energy and patience have clearly worn thin since the days of the pandemic when we’d diligently stay inside and find novel ways to help each other out. Half the woke people I know are going to the beach now (and I know a lot of woke people). It’s hard to stay patient for half a year — and who knows how much longer we’ll need to keep it up — but everything comes at a cost. The majority of us are on the outside looking in, fully aware of what our senior year could be, but completely powerless to change its course. Don’t be surprised if you see a generation of discombobulated teenagers who feel helpless due to everything that’s going on.

The coronavirus was the meme of February.

In the early days of the pandemic, a lot of us were blindsided by the severity of the crisis. The coronavirus was the meme of February. Whenever someone coughed during class, kids would turn and laugh. Indie artists sold sweatshirts online that read “Zoom University.” We knew things were serious once schools around the country were canceled indefinitely. Instagram stories and lunchtime conversations were soon flooded with chatter about missing out on concerts and competitions, or those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like graduation and prom.

In March, on my final day in the physical classroom, I woke up at dawn with a panic attack. I felt a lurch in my chest, throat, and abdomen, and my breathing became labored. I’m not totally sure what I was so deeply afraid of. I felt paralyzed with disbelief. I’m not supposed to be here, I kept thinking to myself, this isn’t supposed to be happening.

I set up a strict regimen while stuck at home. School started at 9 a.m. for me — not because my teachers had me on a tight schedule, but because I did. Physiology at 9 a.m., wipe down doorways at 10 a.m., Ceramics at 11 a.m., writing from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., AP Language conference calls at 2:30, trumpet practice at 4:30, reading at 7. I even allotted time for studying for the SAT, SBAC, AP exams, and for procrastination. I transformed my weekly wipe-off calendar into a color-coded hourly schedule. It wasn’t much, but it made the madness a little more bearable.

For adults who weren’t already panic-buying toilet paper, I’m sure orders to stay indoors in isolation came as a small blessing. I always hear about how you all love to stay inside or revel in having nothing to do. But kids don’t live like this.

Every day feels like I’m reaching the edge of a virtual world in a video game: if I keep pushing, I might just break through; for now, I’m just walking into an invisible wall.

With school, deadlines are always looming, but we can tackle them one at a time (or six at a time, because that’s what’s expected of us). With Covid-19 overtaking the foreseeable future, though, nobody knows what to do. I always knew my school-induced stress would end at some point: when the assignment was due, when the SAT scores came in, when the presentation was over. Now, the horizon is a foggy, blurred line — try to focus on it too hard and you’ll get queasy. Every day feels like I’m reaching the edge of a virtual world in a video game: If I keep pushing, I might just break through; for now, I’m just walking into an invisible wall.

My relationships are straining, my friends are going outside and gathering, and I don’t have my usual passions anymore. So much has changed; I honestly can’t think of anything that has stayed the same. My style has evolved, my schedule is virtually empty, and I certainly wasn’t this invested in Spider-Man before. If I weren’t actively social distancing, I would have met up with friends, like some kids have done, but I’m smarter than that.

What I’d once considered standout moments of high school now feel bittersweet. In June, I was chosen to be drum major in the school marching band alongside three of my closest friends. I’d pictured us having fun making speeches and welcoming the incoming class of freshmen, working together as a close-knit leadership team. But while other friends are defying social distance rules by heading to the beach, we’re left to schedule Zoom calls to figure out how to connect with new bandmates via webcam.

Still it’s comforting to know that because we’re all going over the same bumps in the road, we have more empathy than usual, and we’re better at helping each other out. As we schedule calls over Discord in place of club meetings and share Instagram posts about Grab and Go Food Centers, we strengthen the communities we’ve been building since freshman year. The phrase “disasters bring people together” may be ad nauseam, but it is for good reason. Once the school year kicks off next week with remote learning 2.0, I’m sure we’ll need to lean on one another even more.

High school senior who always has something to say. Activist, artist, musician, lifelong Girl Scout…and writer, of course. She/her.

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