Students reflect on loss of milestones, look forward to future
By Yosef Weiss
No one truly saw the course of 2020 with 20/20 vision. Only four months in, this year has been hectic and surprising, a see-saw of events and feelings: from the bushfires in Australia to new planets discovered, from the 2020 stock market crash to the advances of SpaceX… and most recently, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. As this disease spreads, life all around us turns upside down and appears to proceed in slow-motion. Adults feel the hit in employment curtailed and students feel keenly the loss of social life. Seniors sense the added frustration of an already bittersweet year changed in its celebration and demarcation. 2020 marks our final year at home, the end of one journey and the beginning of the next.
Specifically, however, seniors across all schools felt the absence of activities and events usually reserved for high school’s special final year. Since 1988, following Passover, students from around the world travel to Poland to see concentration camps firsthand and honor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. Known as the March of the Living, its participants serve as living testaments to history and travel the experience from the Yom HaShoah march walking from Auschwitz to Birkenau to the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut in Israel. For the first time since its inception, due to the coronavirus, this iconic annual trip is not occurring. A senior at Yavneh Academy of Dallas, Paul Schussler, spoke about the March of the Living as what he thought would be “an influential and impactful experience on who I will turn out to be as a person.” This rite of passage, anticipated for years, leaves an empty space in many Yavneh and BBYO seniors’ lives.
Most seniors feel the loss of prom, the last big formal high school social event. Every year, the senior class looks forward to this classic dance. Diane Scheinberg, a senior at The Winston School, served on the student government, working since December to plan the spring prom event. “Prom was really mine to plan, and I got to have a say in everything,” Scheinberg said. “I was really passionate about it and truly wanted to see it through. It’s really hard to see it taken away after all of the hours that I put into it.”
Tamar Yahalom, a senior at Richardson High School, also views prom as important, since there are not many dances over the year. “My friends and I were planning to get dressed up, take photos, and rent a limo to make the day special. We had been looking forward to the day our whole high school careers, so it was really disappointing to hear that it would be canceled.”
Seniors at all high schools worry about the loss of the graduation ceremony. This final celebration of the hard work poured into the previous four years may not take place as scheduled. Whether graduating with honors or celebrating individual victories, all seniors cherish this public recognition of their achievement. Whether together for just a few years or from early childhood, students recognize the bonds and milestone recognition of this event.
“I’m going to miss being able to walk across the stage at graduation. That is the finish line and now I can’t cross it,” said Scheinberg.
Most still hope for a physical and official graduation, but many schools are looking for remote ways to honor seniors and demarcate this special time. Not only do the seniors desire such a ceremony, but also friends and family wish to share their pride in their children achieving this milestone.
In addition to academics, seniors note the deficiency of other exciting activities. For Yahalom, this loss mainly involved tennis. As varsity captain in her last year on the team, she looked forward to possibly leading her team to the state championship. Unfortunately, they played only one match before the season was canceled.
Scheinberg looked forward to her senior retreat and the baccalaureate, a ceremony done for the parents before graduation where they show baby pictures, the choir sings and the seniors walk across the stage.
As the summer quickly approaches, students wonder and worry about their plans for the upcoming months in limbo. Given skyrocketing unemployment and shut down companies, seniors find themselves devoid of work for the summer. “I was very upset when I heard about the cancellation of Greene Family Camp as it has always been a home away from home. This would have been my first year as a staffer and is what everyone looks forward to,” said Scheinberg when asked about her summer plans. Schussler planned to take a similar staffing job over the summer at Camp Ramah in California; however, he worries that it too will be impacted if the coronavirus pandemic continues into the summer.
For others, the coronavirus greatly disrupts the transition to college. As Yahalom considers the McCombs School of Business at University of Texas at Austin, she continues to participate in virtual information sessions. As Yahalom explains, “There are a lot of aspects of a college campus that are hard to gauge from a Zoom call. I was really hoping to visit the campuses of colleges that I was considering, so not being able to do so in the spring of my senior year was disappointing.”
While most students go straight to college, many graduates choose to spend a GAP year before beginning their higher education. I plan on taking a GAP year in Israel, specifically at Yeshivat Lev Hatorah in Beit Shemesh. Due to coronavirus, those of us planning on traveling internationally for the next year are still waiting to see when other countries’ borders and our international programs will open.
With the extra time at home, seniors are finding the hours to explore old and new interests. For Schussler, this includes learning to cook, browsing YouTube, playing board games, doing puzzles, and watching old movies with his family. He also hopes to advance his guitar skills and possibly get a jump-start in preparation for his next four years at college.
When asked how he was going to change from this experience, Schussler responded, “I’ll have a greater appreciation for what I had since I usually take things for granted, whether going outside or just hanging out with friends. However, after coronavirus, I haven’t been able to do any of these activities and I miss them greatly.”
In addition to FaceTiming friends, painting and exercising, Scheinberg plans to take this time to reflect and decompress before starting the new chapter of her life — as she describes it, “A blessing in disguise, albeit a great big ugly disguise.” In order to retain a structured life, Yahalom set her own routines, distinguishing between academic time and time with her family. Yahalom explained “I now value the time I spend with other people. No one saw this pandemic coming, and we must learn to make the most of everything that comes our way.”
Most seniors admit to a very weird final year at home; however, despite all these negatives, many positives still shine through. We have the time to build relationships at home before we head off in our various directions. I am grateful for the days that I get to spend with my two brothers at home, whether playing basketball in our backyard or taking runs around the neighborhood. As a result of my isolation, I now have the privilege of spending hours playing the piano both for pure enjoyment and in preparation for my senior piano recital. These memories made during 2020 will remain with me for my entire life. We also should realize that the connections we forge with our friends extend far beyond physically being together. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw my grandmother on a video call with all of her friends from Year Course (over 50 years ago!) and my mother chatting with her college suitemates. Thankfully, as a senior, the coronavirus does not in any way diminish my excitement and anticipation for next year, whether in Israel or Washington University in St. Louis. Amid these turbulent times, it is crucial for us to find these silver linings of our lives.
Yosef Weiss is the son of Drs. Simma and Shelley Weiss and a Yavneh Academy senior.