The Lost Senior Year

The isolation caused by COVID-19 restrictions placed a strain on Kayla Andrus’ relationships with teachers and friends. Now Andrus, an 18-year-old graduating senior at Mount Carmel, finds herself staying up until two in the morning and waking up later in the day to begin incessant Zoom meetings for classes that don’t seem to matter anymore.

Mid-March, students and staff alike waited anxiously for end-of-day announcements, when their concerns were confirmed: they weren’t coming back to high school. Senior year was supposed to be the year of prom, graduation, college move-ins, new beginnings, and sorrowful goodbyes. But what does it mean for seniors to miss out on these rites of passage that mark a step in their adolescent journeys?

“I was originally planning on going out of town for college, but now I’m forced to reconsider these options because of the virus,” Andrus said, referring to her dream school of New York University. “I wanted to major in cinema and get internships that I wouldn’t get here in New Orleans.” 

After some deep consideration with her parents, Andrus said it might be better to re-apply later and transfer because it’s too risky to travel from New Orleans to New York without the guarantee of adequate safety procedures or proper PPE.

“We were scheduled to graduate from Mount Carmel on May 18, and didn’t hear word of changing the date for a while,” Andrus said. “Until the lockdown happened.” Andrus was looking forward to her school’s senior theme events like senior countdown and jazz brunch. 

“I always thought I was an introverted person,” Andrus said. ”But isolation has proven me wrong.” 

Andrus now plans to attend Loyola University, where they will facilitate hybrid classes—both virtual and on-campus—like many other universities across the nation. Students are required to wear masks and socially distance, but she hasn’t received word on how the university plans to maintain these protocols in densely packed areas like the dining hall and gyms. 

“Lack of communication with the general public makes it seem like there’s no attempt to make a difference in protecting people from the virus,” Andrus said. “People in New Orleans seem to be more comfortable with the current state of living but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.” For now, Andrus just hopes for the best. 

For 18-year-old Zoe Kanga, a graduating senior at Lusher Charter School in New Orleans, the swift transition from in-person to online classes was also not an ideal situation for her living situation. “My grandmother had spinal surgery in late March and is currently wheelchair- bound,” she explains. “My mom and I are staying with her in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where I’ve been serving as her part-time nurse/housekeeper while being a senior.”

Kanga is president of Student Life Council in school, which is in charge of school-wide events like assemblies and prom, but it’s been difficult for her to retain school spirit while being so far away. “Lusher is really like no other school,” she continues. “I was looking forward to prom and graduation, wearing my college gear and second-lining out the building with my peers while the school waved us off.” 

Kanga describes Abiquiu as “a tiny town on a mountain in the desert.” Her days are a repeating pattern of waking up, getting her grandmother out of bed, cleaning up the house, doing her homework, taking brief walks, and ending her day with evening meals. Compared to New Orleans’s population of 390,000, Abiquiu, New Mexico has a population of less than 300 where locals can be fined for not wearing masks. Residents coming out-of-state must quarantine for 14 days upon return.

“I haven’t seen my friends in eight weeks and I miss them,” Kanga said. “I miss New Orleans. While everything else has been lost, it would be nice to have some kind of normalcy.”

Kanga has since returned to New Orleans and is heading to Yale University in less than a month. 

“My college has decided to house only 75 percent of their student body with first-years returning in the fall and second-years returning in the spring,” Kanga said. “Everyone will be living in a single dorm and all classes will be held online.” 

Despite the transition to virtual learning, Yale has not adjusted the cost of tuition, but in exchange, plans to offer two free courses in the summer of 2021 for first- and second-years who took one virtual semester. 

For Kanga, however, she believes states should return back to Phase 1. “I think there are some universities that have the privilege to reopen because they have the funding and resources to prevent a major outbreak without a huge financial loss,” Kanga said. “But there are plenty of schools putting their students, faculty, and staff at risk.” In Kanga’s view, human lives are more important than the economy. 

As students like Kanga acclimate to new environments amidst the pandemic, others like Malak Mohammad acclimate to home life. 

Mohammad is an 18-year-old recent graduate from Haynes Academy. The transition to virtual classes came as a soft blow for her because most of her courses were already online. Compared to other Jefferson Parish schools, Mohammad attended dual-enrollment classes at the University of New Orleans to earn credit for college courses.

“I was very excited about graduation and our senior walkthrough before school ended where all the seniors would get dressed up and walk through the campus to wave goodbye to lower classmen while the band played music through the halls,” Mohammad said. 

Schools weren’t the only things to shut down as the pandemic swept through the nation. Mohammad also missed out on gathering with close family and friends during Ramdan this year to break fast with ifṭār. This year, Ramadan lasted from April 23-May 23: a month-long period of fasting and self-reflection to increase spiritual dependence on God. 

“It’s truly a month that unites everyone together and it saddens me greatly that we’ll be unable to continue this tradition with friends and family,” Mohammad said.

Mohammad works a full-time job as a billing specialist at Tiger Fuel and Stars Oil, where she bills customers for fuel products. It’s a pretty tedious task dealing with numbers, especially with the rapid influx of customers as gas prices drop.

“I want to major in finance when I attend UNO in the fall,” Mohammad said. “I already have a few business and economic courses planned for me, and the virtual courses might prove to be beneficial as I balance my work schedule with classes.” Like Andrus and Kanga, Mohammad believes most schools aren’t ready to open in-person classes for the fall. Opening schools increases the threat of contracting the virus, which wouldn’t help the country overcome the pandemic. 

Since lockdown, Mohammad has been sleeping in more and hanging out with friends less. When her days are not consumed with work, she spends her time on social media like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, where she posts snippets of meals she shares with family members or displays the indigo sunsets plastered across the City Park skyline. Bright moments during dark times.