For Middletown High School graduating senior Sara Lookingbill, the last few days of graduation practice were the first time she’d set foot in the school since she and her classmates went to an all-virtual format at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the school’s seniors lined up in a hallway in their caps and gowns, waiting to strut into the school’s football stadium for their graduation, Lookingbill reflected on the past year-plus of isolation and transition.
It was exciting to see the senior class all back together again but weird coming back into the school, she said.
A virtual student for her senior year, Lookingbill said the lack of structure and motivation of online school made it hard.
It was also hard to stay close with friends when you didn’t see them at school every day, she said.
Not being able to see all her friends was one of the hardest parts of the pandemic, Rachael Robinson said as the seniors milled around the school’s cafeteria before the ceremony.
It was a little touch of routine after the disruption of the pandemic, her friend Alyssa Daley said.
“This is like the first normal thing,” Daley said.
While society has started to open up in recent weeks as vaccines have become more available and COVID numbers have dropped, it would have been nice if it had happened earlier so they could enjoy more of their senior year, Isys Loaisiga admitted. But it’s nice that it did at all, she said.
When they left last year with almost three months left in their junior year, Loaisiga initially didn’t think it would affect their senior year.
She adopted a hybrid schedule when students were allowed to return to schools in February, doing a mix of virtual and in-person learning.
It was good to get back into the building, but weird not being able to see some of the people she’d been used to seeing every day.
She tried not to get her hopes up of having an in-person graduation so she wouldn’t be disappointed if it didn’t happen.
Grace King also thought when she left last year that she would be back in the hallways of Middletown High for her senior year.
A virtual student for this year, King said it only really hit her halfway through this year that she wouldn’t be returning to those hallways.
While she thought before COVID that she and her peers probably spent too much time in school, she found that she missed coming to school and seeing people.
King said she thinks the pandemic will help her generation realized that while there’s a lot you can do from home, it’s also important to show up in person sometimes.
Class speaker Ananthakrishnan Nair urged his classmates not to be afraid to take chances as they learn who they are and who they’re destined to be.
“In reality, the worst thing that can happen is you’ve learned another lesson,” Nair said.
And Principal Bernard Quesada reminded them that Middletown High School is not about a building, but about a larger community.
“It’s the soul of this community, passed down from one generation to the next,” Quesada said.