Social distance and senioritis: Graduating high school in 2020

A couple of weeks ago, Addison Cross went to a uniquely 2020 event: A socially distanced graduation party.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” she said, describing the way her senior year ended at Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas. “Obviously, it’s not really like the senior year I had planned for or really the one that I wanted, I guess.”

As one of the editors-in-chief of the school newspaper, an actress in several school plays, and a student of three AP classes, Cross was busy anyway. Then the coronavirus hit.

“It felt, a lot of the time, like I had more work after we got out of school than I did whenever we were in school,” she said, “even though I know that probably isn’t true.”

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With her mother and step-father both essential workers, Addison also had to watch her eight-year-old brother in the evenings. “He’s not that high-maintenance,” Cross said. “He just plays video games all day.” She knows others have siblings who are more reliant on them and households that are busier, so she feels lucky she had time to turn on music and study for her AP exams. Her father is in Hong Kong where he works, unable to come back to the U.S. “It’s already taken so much from us,” Cross said of the pandemic.

Missing milestones

Addison Cross

Senior year is often packed with milestones, from prom to graduation to 18th birthdays. One of Cross’s friends, another editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, celebrated her birthday with a parade of cars driving past her house. As Texas starts to reopen, Cross says she’s been able to see more of her friends, while still being conscious of social distancing. “My family was really, really strict in the beginning,” she said. “And we’re still really careful, especially because my mom works in a nursing home.” Her step-father, an air-conditioning technician, is also in close contact with people every day.

Cross’s school has been trying to give students ways of celebrating their final year. Instead of a banquet for the end-of-the-year awards, the teachers made yard signs for the winners. Cross received the theater department’s award. “So, there’s a picture of me in our yard, which is really weird,” she said. “As if my mom’s Facebook wasn’t enough.”

For graduation, each student was given 15 minutes in the school’s theater to walk across the stage and get their diplomas. Six family members could attend and film the scaled-down ceremony. On the scheduled day of graduation, the school showed all the videos, edited together. “People have been complaining about it,” said Cross. “I kinda liked it.”

The logistics of giving everyone those 15 minutes meant Cross walked across the stage before classes were over. “You already have senioritis, and you already don’t want to do anything, but then you’re at home and they’re still telling you to do work,” she said. She and her fellow editors were also grappling with how to cover the pandemic for the paper. “We don’t want to just be like the class that was affected by COVID-19, you know?” she said. “But at the same time, it’s like, what else are you going to write about?”

Keeping connected

Addison Cross

It has also been an adjustment not seeing her friends. “Initially, it was really hard, and I was really sad a lot because I was like — I just hated being alone,” Cross said. She and her classmates have been texting and FaceTiming, and driving to each other’s houses to talk from six feet away in the driveway. “You find ways to make it happen,” she said.

In the fall, Cross will start her freshman year at Texas A&M, where she plans to major in political science. As of now, the university is planning to open in September. “So we’re going to go down there and move in and do all that fun stuff,” she said. “They said football season’s coming back, so that’s exciting.”

Though social distancing measures change week by week and vary by state, the university’s plan to open gives Cross a starting place to plan for her first year of college. She says the class of 2020 has been through something unique, but she also tries to temper any disappointments with the bigger picture.

“It’s a very interesting type of grief,” she said. “Like, we’re sad but at the same time, we know that people have it much worse than us.”

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