Editor’s note: High School South senior Dani Sakran has been an editorial intern with The News since February as part of the WW-P School District’s senior options program.
Through Senior Options, she received high school credits while working to learn about newspapers and considering whether she wanted to study journalism in college.
In the article below, Dani reflects on what it’s been like to live through a final year of high school like no other.
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Ever since I was a freshman, I have looked forward to my senior year of high school. The trips, prom, graduation—it seemed like a dream to be a senior. Unfortunately, my senior year was robbed from me by COVID-19.
Before quarantine, I’d wake up at 6 a.m. and look forward to going to school. It was the social aspect that made school attractive to me—not the academic one. My friends and I would schedule dates where we’d hang out after school, and at night I would study until I understood the material from all my classes.
Don’t get me wrong, when it was first announced at the beginning of the pandemic that there would be two weeks off from school, I was ecstatic. In fact, I was hoping for it before it was confirmed. I would never have guessed that two weeks would turn into a disastrous year.
My junior year with coronavirus wasn’t that bad. Actually, it had more positives than negatives. School started at 9 a.m. rather than 6 a.m., and ended at noon rather than 2 p.m. Our school graded us based on completion rather than accuracy, which for one, bumped my grade and two, ensured that I wouldn’t have to stress or worry about school.
In addition, the anxiety of the standardized tests was taken off of the Juniors as all colleges eventually announced they’d be going SAT/ACT-optional. Not only that, but we also still got to go outside and enjoy life without fearing for our lives. Then, summer hit.
From there, it only got worse. Everyone thought that the pandemic would die out by June 2020, but it didn’t. It was frustrating because my family and I were planning a trip to California, but of course, we didn’t go. We were stuck in New Jersey. Which is not bad, but it wasn’t the ideal summer vacation spot, especially since beaches were closed.
Then came the worst part of all—my senior year. My school reverted back to its old schedule, grading system and cancelled all events—including the senior trip to Disney. I was heartbroken.
One positive was that our school gave us the option to attend virtually, or a hybrid of in-person and virtual. At the start of the school year, I chose the hybrid option. But, as the school year progressed, my classes got smaller and smaller as more people switched to virtual schooling. This robbed the social aspect of high school from me, and I no longer felt the need to attend in-person. I eventually switched to full-time virtual.
As each day passed, my motivation decreased. At the start of the school year, I’d wake up an hour and 30 minutes before the start of school, set up my work-table, turn on my camera, take notes during class, etc.
Now, I wake up five minutes before class starts, I keep my camera off, my workplace is my bed, and I usually fall asleep or scroll through TikTok if the lesson is too boring. Otherwise, I just lay down and wait for the lesson to end. Instead of feeling like a class, school felt like a long and boring YouTube video.
During quarantine of March 2020, I would take a two-hour walk daily. Eventually, a few months into senior year, as school became more and more stressful, I found that when I wasn’t studying, I was sleeping. Yes, I was getting more sleep but my schedule was all over the place. I would sleep all day and study all night. I never found time to walk, and this just contributed to my ever-decreasing level of motivation.
My decrease in motivation contributed to my lack of care when it came to academics. Not only would I not pay attention during class, but whenever there was a test, I’d self-study all the material the night before. If I didn’t understand the material, I’d just give up and tell myself I’ll figure it out the day of the test.
Usually studying the night before equates to stressful cramming, however because I didn’t care about the outcome of the test, I stopped stressing overall. I’m aware of how problematic this is, however, I somehow managed to maintain decent grades ranging from a B+ to an A+.
To my knowledge, I’m not the only teenager who does this. Of course, there are polar opposites who still stress over tests, but I have many friends who feel the same as I do. Instead of asking our friends for help on a subject, we now say, “I hate school, I don’t care anymore.”
With that being said, I’m incredibly glad that my school offers the Senior Options program, as it’s currently one of the only exciting parts of my senior year. I owe it all to Bill Sanservino, editor of the News, and Mr. Totaro, my faculty advisor, for being the best mentors I could ask for. Before I officially enrolled into my internship, Mr. Totaro taught me valuable lessons about adult life that they generally don’t teach at high school. This includes credit cards, debt, and stocks.
Once I started the internship, I was incredibly nervous during my first few days, however Bill made sure to make me feel welcome. Along with guiding me through journalism, he makes coming to the internship seem less like a job and more like a fun hobby.
Our school has been wonderful in the sense that it did everything to make the year as memorable as possible for the seniors, especially since we’re missing out on the key experiences that make senior year so special. They offered local trips to the beach and parks that adhered to COVID protocols.
My entire high school career I’ve worked towards making my parents proud during my senior year. Recently, we had our senior awards ceremony. I was lucky enough to attend and received the “Excellence in Business” award.
Although it was an amazing experience, half of my friends and my family were not able to attend. The ceremony was for award-recipients only, which was disappointing, but understandable.
As for graduation, current plans call for in-person ceremonies to be held on Friday, June 18, at 3 p.m. at the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton. High School South’s ceremony will be at 10:30 a.m., and North’s at 3 p.m. A limited number of parents and guests will be allowed to attend.
Despite everything I’ve stated above, I still have high hopes that my college experience will be both a regular (with respect to COVID-19) and an exciting one. I’ll be majoring in law studies with a minor in journalism at Rutgers, which has announced that 2021-2022 classes will be in person. This will hopefully revert things to the way they were before, and encourage people to go out and socialize.
Though COVID-19 has been an unpleasant experience, it has taught me many lessons that I will forever cherish. For one, I learned the value of socializing and connecting with my community—something I took for granted. Before quarantine, I never really bothered to get to know my neighbors unless they were in the same school as me, and even then, unless we shared a class, I never really talked to them.
This lesson will surely help me strive throughout my college career and motivate me to join more college activities than I was planning to—just to meet new people. Coronavirus has affected my high school years in ways that I never thought possible, but I won’t let it negatively affect my future.