PMHS seniors, dreams deferred, dreams denied: ‘The more I stayed positive, the more negative things happened’
June 27, 2020
The sweet release of pressure from classes, parents, the college process and the search for perfection. Finally, in second semester with spring approaching, the Class of 2020 could exhale. This was the moment the seniors had been looking forward to. They were ready to breeze through the end of an era and experience all the final traditions they’d been waiting for since freshman year: the prom, senior skip day, carnival, graduation and a good dose of plain old senioritis.
Then, coronavirus hit. The pandemic caused chaos, fear and uncertainty. Their lives screeched to a halt.
“This can’t be real…” said Lance Brady. “I never thought that that Thursday, March 12, was the last,” Miriam Ciacca said. “I feel almost cheated out in a way,” said Emma McNulty. “It feels we just didn’t end properly,” said Stephanie Munn. All four are seniors at Pelham Memorial High School and will be graduating sitting in cars at SUNY Purchase on Saturday.
Following are nine different perspectives from PMHS seniors on finishing high school under lockdown, on losing much of what the end of high school is about. These stories have been shared with permission. The written accounts below are based on interviews and follow-ups and have been edited for length and clarity.
There is this organization called Jack and Jill. This is a mother’s organization for African American teens. There are different regions, and I am the president of my chapter for the eastern region, and every year we have this thing called Teen Conference in March, May or June, basically whichever they choose. It is a graduation ceremony where all of the chapters from your region come together and compete and show what you have done throughout the year in the organization. Everyone comes to the gala, and then the seniors wear white, bridal or puffy dresses and we do a little cotillion dance. It is a big night. It is your final one. It is really memorable. I have watched my cousins go through it. I have watched friends and family. I had my dress and everything and was ready. And then… it’s virtual.
You wanted it to feel like the end of “High School Musical 3,” when they are jumping and the curtains close. Instead, this is like when they end a series midway, and you don’t know if it’s coming back or not, until years after and they decide they were never bringing it back. You have to make your own definition of what happened to the characters and how it ended.
At first, when we found out we didn’t have school that Friday, I was so excited that we were going to have a couple of days off. Then a couple of days after, I found out we were closed for a couple more days, then a month. I was never convinced that we were going to be gone for the year. I was being optimistic and brushing off the fact that it was a serious situation. It never really hit me how this was such a big thing and how much we were going to miss out on until mid-April. When I found out the news of school closure, it shocked me. I was speechless, and I will remember it forever because it changed my life and made me feel like I should not take things for granted.
It feels like I’m missing out on a big part of my life that I won’t get back, but I am being optimistic that the memories I will make after this will make up for what I missed out on. My “lasts” for everything hurt more now than when they actually happened. My last football game, watching my last high school basketball game, last hockey game, being a big Pelham sports fan. They’re good memories but also make me sad.
I feel almost cheated out in a way. I think the first thing that went through my head was what’s going to happen to the show. The more I stayed positive, the more negative things happened. School closure got officially confirmed and so did the play. I was okay at first in that if prom gets canceled, I will just dress up and take pictures in my backyard. Same with graduation. I will just order a cap and gown online. Most of it’s for pictures anyways.
I had a moment. I kept my emotions pretty inside most of the quarantine. I went into my mom’s room, and we were just talking. It started off as a casual thing just talking about drama. I asked my mom if I could get a prom dress, but it was super expensive. And so she says to me, “Yeah I don’t think so.” I understood that, but the more I thought about that, the more I thought about prom and all the things that seem so superficial in my head, and I just got so upset and started crying uncontrollably. My mom seemed so concerned and just upset because there was nothing she could tell me. There was no comforting thing that she could tell me because if she promises something that doesn’t happen, she will feel worse or I will feel worse. Looking at your parents and them not knowing the answer is a weird moment. When it finally hit me that I wasn’t getting my full high school experience and maybe even the first part of college, that struck a nerve for me. Looking at my mom, who seems to always have the answers, not know what to do was something I will never forget.
It was a little disappointing at first, but there isn’t much we can do about it. I have come to accept the fact that it happened, and it has become less disappointing than when it initially was. We do what we can now, and that’s about it.
The ending of high school feels anti-climactic, to be honest. We were going to have all these things like prom, graduation, but then it just fell flat, I would say. I’m more worried that we are not going back. I really do want to go down and start college. My school Rice has an orientation week or “O” week in which all freshmen come and do field activities, and I don’t want to miss that and am worried they might not have that.
I was really looking forward to the prom. I got my senior prom dress the weekend that we went into lockdown. I was super excited, and then when it started to come to me that we weren’t going back, I had to give it back because I didn’t want the time to run out.
I am going to McGill University in Montreal, Canada, so obviously it is a bit difficult during this time because in order to go to college in the fall I have to get my immigration paperwork. Right now, the immigration paperwork is put on hold. Also, the university is talking about reopening campus in the fall but everyone would have to do classes virtually. For me, it doesn’t really make sense to go then. There is so much uncertainty, which is the hardest part. I feel like if I had a straight answer, then I could make a final decision. At this point, I don’t know whether I am going to be in Pelham, Montreal, or I was even thinking of going to New Zealand just to getaway. I honestly can’t do a full semester of online classes at my house.
When you start as a freshman going from that first year out of four to start high school, you want to experience every little thing that comes your way. When we were freshmen, we had our very first Olympics and then you go through sophomore, junior and then the senior year is supposed to be your big year where you want to experience everything you have been looking forward to, like prom and graduation, since day one. It is distressing to know that the end of the senior year got canceled because of this pandemic. Knowing that I won’t be in the school again and cannot have those proper goodbyes with everyone that has been with me throughout my four years of high school is heartbreaking.
Learning about people in our community who were affected by this virus will be something I will never forget. I got a little caught off guard learning that there were people in Pelham that had the coronavirus. I felt so bad because as a person, you want to be able to help them no matter the situation. But this is a pandemic, and I couldn’t. It was heartbreaking that people in our community were suffering from this disease, and it made me super sad knowing that I couldn’t do anything to help them, besides social distancing. You wish you could perform some sort of miracle to have this pandemic go away.
I never thought that that Thursday was the last. I never thought it would come to this point. I still thought I was going to go to Italy for spring break. So for spring break, I was just going to go to Italy alone to visit my extended family, and then in the summer, my whole family from Pelham was going to Italy to visit my family. We were recently told that EU citizens cannot go to Italy if your residency is somewhere else. So that’s us. Our residency is here in New York, but we are still EU citizens. I have four siblings, so we have a pretty big family. But all of my family is in Italy. We are the only ones in America.
It’s not about where I go. It’s about me getting my diploma and doing what I love. I want to have the experience and go to college. Paying tuition with just going online is silly. If my college went online, I might as well take a gap year. I also cannot work on my bed for longer. But, I have been doing a lot of grocery shopping for people. This is one way I could still get some type of earnings and money during this time. I would always babysit this family so I now shop for her. Little things like that give me things to do and make me feel good. I used to babysit four families a week. I used to babysit so much.
For me, it has been surreal. It feels like it is a dream, and it is hard to process the emotions. I have seen my brothers go through graduation and prom at Pelham. I know my mom did the same when she was at Pelham. It is tough to process that I won’t get that same experience. I do like how the school is trying its best. I know Principal Clark is trying her hardest and really working to get us graduation that isn’t virtual.
I was running back and forth between lacrosse and theater before we closed. I was actually thankful to get a couple of days off. I am so thankful that I have three siblings. I have been trying to stay active. Our lacrosse season did not get canceled until late April, so we were assigned workouts, so I had to do that every day, which kept me busy.
In my free time, I have been going on walks, bike rides, getting to exercise more. I have been doing a lot of homework. Well, I haven’t really been doing it, but I have been assigned a lot of homework. I’m taking up some random activities like “paint by numbers,” which is tedious, so I do a little each day, and then it eventually comes together.
It really hit me when they gave us the call that we aren’t going to go back, but also it still hasn’t hit me because we haven’t graduated yet. It is going to be a really weird realization that we will never be high schoolers again. If the district was planning a prom at the end of July, I would love to do it. I don’t think it would be worth it to do prom during Thanksgiving break because not a lot of people would show up. Once you start college, high school is over, and I wouldn’t really want to do any senior events because it just wouldn’t feel the same. It’s a little bit too much to do it that far away.