Class of 2020, interrupted With the school year all but cancelled, high school seniors fret about missed opportunities

Senior Jocelyn Muñoz played varsity water polo for Everett Alvarez High School | Provided photo

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By Ilyne Castellanos

Senior year is a pivotal moment in young people’s lives. It is a gateway to life beyond childhood, a year of senior trips, senior dinners, prom, last games, concerts and celebrations of that special time high school students spend together. Preparing for a new life is a constant theme for seniors during this time of the year, but for the class of 2020, the life they were preparing for had nothing to do with adjusting to a pandemic.

But that’s what Julissa Ruiz, a varsity cheerleader for the Condors at North Monterey County High School, needed to do after her school closed. She is the vice president of the student body and getting ready to become the first in her family to head to college. Before all Monterey County schools agreed to close starting March 16, all Ruiz had in mind was enjoying the end of senior year. The outbreak of COVID-19 has meant the abrupt pause of school for students all over the country, and for Julissa, this means that all the end of year events are “postponed” with no definite reschedule.

“I would be giving a speech at graduation. I know I will make my parents proud and not having that makes me so sad because I have been working so hard to be a part of the ceremony,” said Ruiz, the eldest of a family of five. Graduating from high school is a massive milestone not only for her but for her entire family. “Every student deserves to get recognized for their hard work,” she said.

In North Monterey County, Salinas Union and Monterey Peninsula Unified School districts, there were 3,669 students in the class of 2020 during the 2019-2019 school year, according to the schools’ accountability report cards. Senior year is often the highlight of many people’s high school experience, and with even more students in private and alternative institutions, it’s easy to imagine how many local students are being affected. The uncertainty surrounding it has left many people in the dark in regards to how end-of-the-year events are going to be affected.

Ruiz had already decorated her graduation cap. But state and local school administrators this week announced that students will not likely be able to finish out the entire school year in classes, but will instead be learning remotely, from home.

Ben Flores, a senior at North Salinas High School, plays the clarinet and has participated in school bands for five years. With school being moved online, groups like the school bands have been affected immensely. “Band means everything to me.” Ben said. “Band is my second family. Band has treated me in many ways that I feel like some teachers wouldn’t do … These last concerts mean a lot to me too. We practiced hard on the music that we got and now we don’t get to show it off to our families and the community.”

Like most school activities throughout California, all of North Salinas High’s activities have been canceled, including band and choir concerts. Prom is postponed indefinitely with the possibility of being canceled.

Extracurricular activities are highly encouraged to give seniors better opportunities, but with strict physical separation in place, students are not being able to complete projects and goals they have worked for all year, like sports, concerts, field trips and other events. Jocelyn Muñoz, a senior, played varsity water polo during her time at Everett Alvarez High School and was able to conclude her season in the fall, unlike other athletes. However, there are still many chapters Muñoz wants to close, especially prom and other special activities seniors look forward to.

“As an antisocial senior, I was looking forward to running for prom queen because I wanted to get myself out there and connect with other seniors to help nominate me,” she said. “I know prom isn’t a big deal, but for me this is a big stepping stone I would like to overcome to help with anxiety and to help me become more social. The pandemic is taking away many memories we seniors could have had for the rest of our lives … Senior year is the time to go to all the end-of-the-year activities — home games, senior nights, powderpuff, and grad night — so later on in life we can reminisce how it was once to be a high schooler, but now this is all taken away.”

California’s response to COVID-19 has rapidly changed people’s lives in a matter of hours. Since the shelter-in-place order, ambiguity due to the unpredictable nature of the virus has made rumors run rampant among students. Some are saying that their diplomas will be delivered in the mail, others are saying that their activities will simply be rescheduled. On March 23, Everett Alvarez High School administers confirmed to students by Twitter that their prom in San Francisco had been canceled. Salinas High, North Monterey County and other schools have postponed prom indefinitely.

On March 31, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond issued a statement regarding the 2019-2020 school year. “Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing, it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year … This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year, but rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through distance learning … We have guidance coming out this week to address the concerns of our seniors, and even our juniors, in regards to grading and graduation requirements.”

In response to the state superintendent’s statement, the Monterey County Office of Education released a statement as well: “We also know that many students, especially our seniors, who we know were looking forward to celebrating promotion and graduation ceremonies are very concerned about missing out on these momentous celebrations. Please know that district leaders will be planning how they might offer these experiences in different formats and/or at a later date. In the coming days and weeks, districts will provide their families with information regarding how grades, graduation, transcripts, scholarships, summer school, and continued distance learning instruction will be handled.”

For seniors, these statements shed a little light onto an obscure situation; the school semester will not continue, but there is still hope for a well-deserved conclusion to their senior year.

It is a difficult time for everyone but for these students, who never in a million years thought they’d be in this situation, the events that are usually taken for granted are leaving the largest voids.

Marlene Hernández, a senior at Alisal High School has spent her high school years giving to her community. She has dedicated countless hours helping at the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts, Building Healthy Communities, Ciclovia, and her school’s Link Crew. Like Ruiz, she was looking forward to graduation, and what that would mean to her family.

“I’m able to demonstrate to my parents that all the things they went through to give me this opportunity was worth it,” she said.  “In my family, graduation is something huge because it shows that all the sacrifices that my ancestors have made were worth it. It shows that we’re one step ahead of having a better opportunity than our parents. It’s such a great deal that my grandma was supposed to come from Mexico to be part of my graduation but now that might not happen.”

COVID-19 is unlike anything we have seen, and will hopefully ever see again in our lifetime. It can be frightening, but the rapid responses by local and state governments give hope. Meanwhile, as seniors and the other students do their part by staying home and continuing their studies, we all must take precautions to support not just our students but the essential workforce as well. Practicing social distancing and avoiding exposure to the virus are crucial ways to contribute. The sooner that we are able to slow the spread of COVID-19, the sooner the Class of 2020 will be able to finish their year united, and in strength.

For more information:

California Department of Health 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Monterey County Office of Education

California Department of Education

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Ilyne Junuén Castellanos

About Ilyne Junuén Castellanos

Ilyne Junuén Castellanos is a graduate of Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas and is pursuing a double major in political science and Spanish at Hartnell College.