Graduating seniors and the impact of COVID-19
It was about three weeks ago and Darien High School senior Sam Cragin got the news while at a team dinner for lacrosse.
“We found out on a Wednesday night that school would be canceled for two weeks,” said Cragin, 18, who plays varsity on the Blue Wave boys lacrosse team. “Someone got a text at the table.”
At that time, the team didn’t have a lot of information about what was going on, Cragin said.
“When we were told we couldn’t practice, we said, ‘This is not fair. How do we get around it?’ We thought everyone was overreacting.”
By that Friday, “we started realizing no one is cheating us here,” he said.
The interruption in everyone’s lives caused by the coronavirus pandemic is tough for everyone, but especially difficult for the class of 2020.
Graduation, prom, sports competitions, productions, spring break, and even finishing up the school year is either in flux, has been canceled, or is postponed to an unknown date.
Graduating seniors — either high school or college — who have looked forward for a very long time to what would otherwise be a special period in their lives may now feel robbed of memories they may not ever get to have.
Several members of the class of 2020 shared their feelings about what they’re going through now.
While Cragin is waiting to see if he’ll be able to finish his lacrosse season, his coach and captain told the team to stay in shape while at home.
“We were told to work on stuff in our own, to ‘keep the stick in your hand,’” he said. “But it’s tough to stay motivated.”
For exercise equipment, he has been improvising with gardening tools. “I have this big metal bar that’s called an ice pick. It’s used for getting rocks out of the ground,” he said.
He also uses a 30-pack case of water bottles as weights, runs in his neighborhood, and does push-ups.
“We are working with what we got,” said Cragin, who will be attending Williams College in Mass. in the fall to play lacrosse.
Cragin’s advice to fellow seniors is to keep working hard.
“There is nothing we can do,” he said. “We will take what we can get.”
Alexander Gu, a Darien High senior who plays on his school’s golf team, said he is having a lot of trouble adjusting to the new normal.
“You are used to every single day waking up, going to school, seeing all your friends, having a face-to-face talk, and getting the opportunity to play your sport whenever you wanted to,” Gu said. “We had all that taken away from us. It has thrown me into a loop.”
He said online learning “is not the same,” he said. “You can’t see the teacher moving around. You see kids through a screen and not in person.”
He particularly misses playing golf, he said.
“I really wanted to play my last season,” he said. “I feel everyone should have their own opportunity to go out and give it their all. It’s so sad and disappointing.”
In light of the high percentage of senior citizens getting hospitalized from the coronavirus, Gu said he’s worried about his older relatives. Some live close to New York City, which has become known as the epicenter of the virus outbreak.
“I’m always looking after them, asking them how they’re doing,” he said. “I hope they are staying safe and away from other people.”
To his classmates during this time, Gu said to remember to put safety first.
“We don’t want to make any mistakes or take any risks,” Gu said. “Stay at home, have a smile on your face, keep a positive attitude and you’ll get through it.”
Right before the pandemic hit, 17-year-old Darien High School senior Henry Domenici had been very focused on practicing for “Godspell,” his school’s play.
“Our opening night was one week after we got shut down and the quarantine started in Darien,” said Henry, who is in Darien High School’s theatre club.
There is a chance that if school doesn’t resume for the rest of the school year, those involved with the production will be looking for another venue to hold the show.
“We have a cast of about 30 to 40. We are going to put it on no matter what,” Henry said. “We have back-up plans.”
He said he has been continuously practicing his music and lines while at home.
“Everyone is really committed to making this show happen,” he said.
The cast is meeting virtually and will continue to do so until the pandemic ends.
“We are such a big theater family,” he added. “The show has bonded us all together.”
Henry has been involved in theater production since the seventh grade when he was in the ensemble in The Music Man. He plans to join the theater club when he’s at Fordham University in N.Y., in the fall.
Darien resident Amanda Mariano, 22, is the first person in her immediate family to have graduated from college.
She was scheduled to have her graduation ceremony from Norwalk Community College in May.
“It’s a very big deal for my family,” said Amanda, who plans to study youth services and public health.
Aside from her graduation ceremony being in flux, she was working and saving money to go to school in the fall, to get her bachelor’s degree.
Amanda worked two jobs — as a waitress and bartender at Coalhouse Pizza in Stamford, and The Depot Youth Center, where she is an assistant program director.
“This year’s plan was to graduate and work really hard, and I was totally with that, on a roll. Everything was really coming together,” she said. “Things were going great. I was working nonstop and saving a lot of money.”
Then the world closed down.
Since she is no longer working as a waitress, she isn’t able to save the money she would have needed to transfer. This puts a block on all her plans, she said.
She now spends her days at home with her family, working on home refurbishing, painting, and rebuilding projects.
She is looking to find some work through the Internet, either in the clothing or jewelry websites.
Once the pandemic is lifted, she said she’ll pick up her life where it left off.
For spring break, Ashley McLaren, of Darien, 22, and 11 other seniors at the University of Alabama were planning to go to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. However, when the outbreak first occurred, everyone canceled their trip and moved back home.
She has been there ever since.
She was due to graduate from the University of Alabama on May 2. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on-campus spring commencement will not be held as scheduled.
Ashley now takes online classes.
She uses the extra time she has to research job opportunities on the Internet and exploring options for the summer.
She said she would also like to volunteer for a nonprofit, such as AmeriCorps.
She said she’s worried about finding a job in the current environment and moving on to the next stage of her life.
“There a a lot of dead ends,” said Ashley, who would like to work in the social media marketing field. “Many companies are refraining from hiring right now. The second this starts turning around, they say ‘We will give you a call.’”
Her advice is to “Just to keep moving forward, knowing how bad it’s going to get and how hard the businesses are going to take a hit,” she said.
She recommended putting an activity or event on the calendar so there’s something to look forward to once the pandemic ends.
“An idea my friends and I have is of going to one home football game at our college and have a big reunion,” she said.
Ashley added that, “This isn’t gong to last forever. Everyone will get the opportunity to meet with their friends again or go on a trip. The time will come when we will celebrate and be together again.”