News analysis: Class of 2021 lives a gap year

Senior year for most is a year full of lasts. Last classes with best friends, last times in the halls with all your friends, last homecoming, last live musical, last lunches, last tests, last goodbyes. For the Class of 2021, that important sense of finality was lost through much of the year.

Instead, there were unwanted firsts: cohorts, the daily health check and hybrid.

By June, one wouldn’t blame many Pelham Memorial High School seniors for attempting to wipe the preceding year of Covid-19 from their memories, somehow allowing themselves to believe that they had completed their final year in the Pelham schools with their friends by their side and their sanity intact.

“Incomplete” is the best grade that can be given to the experiences of this year’s senior class. Between the shellshock of Pelham’s first closure in March 2020 and the successful execution of an unmasked, indoor prom and an outdoor graduation in June 2021, gaps opened in the lives of the seniors. Though less evident by the time graduation rolled around, they were ever-present, the effects of life lived during a pandemic. Some of the gaps were filled with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, creative solutions that only a global pandemic could inspire. Others could be regarded only as what they were: gaps.

Where students would typically bridge social divides to unite over a common feeling of finality, a sadness that somehow brings long-conflicted friend groups closer together, the seniors were instead isolated for much of the year. Hidden behind masks and shields and screens. If senioritis hit, it was hard to tell. Slumps in grades and academic performance were chalked up to the losses from hybrid learning, not the anticipated lack of motivation that hits students in their last year of high school. And that drop-off was not unique to seniors.

Milestones that had been used in years past to mark the days and prepare students for their final goodbyes lost their symbolic significance, if they did not vanish all together. Tradition was met with compromise, and while these adaptations were not unsuccessful, seniors felt something missing. Students still screamed at their peers as they drenched themselves in fake blood for their first-ever “haunted trail,” rather than the senior’s traditional haunted house. Laughter and music filled the hallways during the modified PMHS Olympics. There were big smiles at graduation on June 26, a coming together without masks under the tent. But the events members of the class had observed and envisioned for three years prior did not take place as they had expected, leaving a lingering feeling of what was missed. A gap.

This story originally ran in the print edition of the Pelham Examiner.