Senior year was supposed to be my first “normal” year of high school. After three different schools, familial health complications, a divorce, a natural disaster, and countless moves between the start of my freshman year and August of my senior year, I was ready to make a new start for myself. I entered the new school-year prepared to make a change in my life and finally be a high schooler. I wanted to go to the dances, football games, and parties that I had never been to. I wanted to put my education second to my happiness for once. I wanted to be spontaneous, live boldly, eat adventurously, and make the most of the last year in my hometown.
I did just that my first semester of senior year. I focused on building relationships. I went out with my friends on weeknights and stayed up too late. I said yes to every opportunity I could and felt ok saying no to things I simply did not want to do. I got my first B. I spent too much money at coffee shops. I went to my first and only football game and left early. I saw Lizzo perform with my friends and tried Cookout, a North Carolina staple, for the first time. I explored all of the hidden gems of my town, reached out to friends I hadn’t spoken to in years, and acted stupid. I finally downloaded Instagram, Facebook, and yes, Tiktok. I planned an 18th birthday trip for myself and many winter ski weekends. I celebrated with family members as they got married and announced their pregnancies. I planned a trip to visit my cousin at college in late March and made spring break plans with friends to go to Los Angeles. I cherished every single day and was finally present in my life and the lives of those I loved.
In January, as we walked into school, I pulled one of my friends, a Junior in high school, aside and told her I didn’t think I was ready to say goodbye to high school just yet. “Five more months just isn’t enough,” I told her. She laughed away my comment and expressed how she only wished she was in my position, close to finishing my time at the school and leaving our town. Although that had been my exact sentiment for as long as I could remember, something had changed for me when the end finally came in sight.
With graduation approaching faster than I wanted it to, my stress about that date in June exponentially increased. How could I get my parents, who haven’t spoken to each other in five years, to sit in the same room? Would I be ok if they could not put their differences aside to support me on such a momentous occasion? Would my sister be able to attend the ceremony, or would her health and ability further complicate the day? Can I invite my grandparents and extended family? Would I just feel further isolated with all of my loved ones in one location, knowing a happy union of the two sides is impossible? And even more so, will I be okay if they decline, choosing for themselves to not even bother dealing with the stress such an event merits? The day and the graduation that I had dreamed about had now become a nightmare.
I had stopped all conversations on the topics with my parents and tried to find ways to change the subject. I continued to work hard at school, occupy myself with friends, and create drama with boys. I engulfed myself in music and podcasts, trying to find the answers that my parents were not easily providing me. I bought a prom dress online and got it altered. In early March, I went to DC with friends and visited my grandmother, telling her there’s no need to be sad when I left, since I already had another flight scheduled for June. “Expect many more hugs soon,” I said as I left her.
I was wrong.
For a long time, the only constant in my life was school. In March, my world came crumbling down when I realized that too was going to be taken away from me. Only weeks after we were sent home for good, I received an email saying that moving forward my school would no longer be awarding credit to seniors for their classes. I was both relieved and left feeling empty. My most stressful and most fulfilling part of life was gone for the unforeseen future.
As the world celebrated my graduation through social media posts, virtual YouTube proms, and commencement speeches by President Obama, I felt both eternally grateful and confused. I had to keep reminding myself that the words of affirmation, praise, and endless support were not just meant for my classmates but also for me. I had worked hard for the past four years on my academic education and myself, all while having to overcome unexpected challenges. I was finally receiving the recognition I deserved, and I didn’t have to unite my family to earn it.
Over the past several months, I have had countless hour-long phone calls and FaceTime sessions where family and friends ask how in the world I’m dealing with this change of plans and the possibility of no freshman year of college. In response, I tell them that in my 18 years of life I have never had a year go by without an unexpected surprise. My status as a high school senior aside, I am dealing with coronavirus the same way as everyone else. Recognizing my privileges in these unforeseen times, I quickly adapted to a laissez faire attitude on life. I separated my wants from my needs, stopped worrying about tomorrow, and jumped right into my new way of life. I learned to sleep in for the first time in my life, took three-hour long walks, put work to the side and tried out new recipes. I reached out to local organizations and asked how I could assist with food distribution and other essential services. I started religiously calling my cousins and friends to exchange our daily plans and accomplishments. Simply put, Coronavirus might have just been the perfect remedy to my chronic FOMO – fear of missing out.
Ironically, for me, a pandemic seems like the perfect conclusion to a hectic, unexpected, and inconsistent four years of high school. And to that, I say that I was not robbed of a senior year and a graduation. I learned what I needed to, made my amends, and more than anything, grew as a person. I feel content closing this chapter of my life and starting my new journey as an adult. Isn’t that what senior year is all about? (Plus, this way I get to wear my cap and gown and prom dress around the house whenever I want.)
But instead of packing my bags and coming up with design plans for my dorm room at the University of California-Los Angeles, I sit in my childhood home, taking classes remotely and achieving only part of the college experience I dreamed about. I wonder when I will get to hug the friends I have made over Zoom, walk around campus, and finally experience all of the freshman traditions. However, I know that those opportunities are waiting for me, not going on without me. My life ahead may look a little different in the short-term, but my long-term goals remain the same. I am going to be okay with whatever life throws at me. I am only eighteen years old, and I feel so blessed to know this is true.
Hannalee Isaacs is a native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and a freshman at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA).