The second half of senior year of high school includes events that are crafted especially for memories. Senior prom carries the definition as the final classwide event. Graduation day marks the finish line of K-12 as well as the starting point for looking forward to the next frontier — wheth- er that is college, trade school, work, or anything else.
These momentous days are penciled in on a calendar several months — arguably up to a year — in advance. For the Class of 2020, however, those calendar-marked events will most likely be either pushed months into
the future or even canceled altogether, due to the health pandemic in which the death toll continues to rise.
Upon asking a few questions to seniors at high schools within Islip Bulletin’s readership, students were eager to contribute their thoughts about their unique experience on the last leg of learning in their school districts.
“This senior year has been nothing but unique,” said James Sladky, of West Islip Senior High School. “All throughout school, everyone pictures what their senior year would be like, and we all went into this with a picture of how we were going to spend our last year in high school. And now many of those plans will not happen. It is a huge adjustment, not only learning-wise, but also we have been forced to change our expectations of our senior year. It is sad, but I think that most of the seniors realize that it is all for the greater good and is some- thing that we need to do for the safety of others.”
Sladky is not the only senior who is frustrated by the Class of 2020’s glaring differences of 12th grade. Several other seniors across districts expressed agreement with Sladky regarding the necessity of these potential postponements. Francis Whitehouse, of Islip High School, said that this year has been eye-opening.
“We don’t realize how lucky we are to have certain privileges until we cannot have them anymore,” Whitehouse said. “Everyone always says that they hate school, but everyone in the Class of 2020 would give their left leg to go back to school to finish our senior year.”
Every student interviewed expressed some level of disappointment in their answers to the question of whether they would be upset if prom, graduation, or neither occurred at all or on time. Bay Shore High School’s Alex Soumakis said he hopes that some aspects of these celebrations can take place.
“I honestly have no idea what my plans would be like if graduation and prom are canceled,” Soumakis said. “If that is the case, then hopefully, by the summertime, this will all be over so that way we can at least try to celebrate with our friends and family.”
Soumakis is not the only senior who expressed hope. Islip High School’s Darienne Rogers said she is hoping both prom and graduation are held, regard- less of whether they are delayed.
“I have begun writing my graduation speech, and I already have a prom dress. If either or both events get totally cancelled, it will definitely be hard for everyone in the Class of 2020 because we have been looking forward to them for as long as we can remember,” Rogers said. “I know some community parents were discussing ways we could host a makeshift prom after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, in the worst-case scenario.”
As Rogers pointed out the coordination of a make-do substitute for prom, West Islip Senior High School’s Amanda Librizzi said she also pondered possible options.
“Since I have had a lot of time on my hands recently, I did come up with some ideas if my graduation and prom are cancelled,” Librizzi said. “I plan on celebrating either way with my family and looking back on all the good times I had throughout my 13 years in school.”
Seniors also expressed indifference toward these events, repositioning the focus on higher priorities. For Ryan Brewer, of Bay Shore High School, the most important is maintaining good health.
“I am trying to just stay thankful for my family’s health and everything like that. I am not all too concerned about graduation and prom. Of course, it is a little bit annoying, and it sucks that we are not going to get to go through those things that every senior in my school’s history has [gone] through. But I am trying to look at the bright side: My family is healthy, and that really is what is most important now,” Brewer said.
Brewer did add, though, that he would be disappointed if graduation was canceled altogether, considering he is the class valedictorian and has been looking forward to speaking before the class on graduation day.
In addition to expressions of hope for good health, seniors are pushing for an optimistic outlook in themselves and their peers. Bay Shore High School’s Jazmine Cuffie said she is not giving up on her senior year closing on a bitter note.
“My hopes for the Class of 2020 is that we all get to experience everything that every other senior who has come before us has,” Cuffie said. “Yes, we have missed a lot, but we do have time to make things right. We do have time to have that last dance and say our goodbyes the way it should be done.”
Cuffie’s peer at Bay Shore High School, Zack Panariello, expects that the class will be honored in some way.
“Hopefully, that can be with a gradu- ation ceremony, but if not, I hope there is some other way to honor the class,” Panariello said. “I hope the class does not let these world events get them down about how great the last four years have been and looking forward to what the future holds.”
Whitehouse hopes that his peers learn from the difficulty of this situation.
“This experience, as a whole, will only make us stronger and more well-versed to meet any challenge we may face in the near future,” Whitehouse said. “Personally, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the health care industry, and I am more driven now than ever to enter nursing [school].”
This question also hits home for many high school seniors; the academic sphere branches into a host of interests, especially sports. Those interviewed made note of their participation in wrestling, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball and softball in their respective school districts.
Although some of those sports’ seasons have passed, many of them had just kicked off, or would have the following week after schools were mandated to close due to the coronavirus. Brewer plays baseball for Bay Shore and fully expects to play in college. However, he expressed sadness for those who may never play another league-organized game.
“I feel really bad for them because they don’t really get the chance to play on Senior Day in front of everybody and their families, to get that last at bat or that last pitch,” Brewer said, adding that the team practiced seven times, but did not get a chance to play a game before the school closure mandate kicked in. Several of those who were interviewed shared Brewer’s situation, including Cuffie, who plays softball for Bay Shore.
“I do have hope that we will get to play,” Cuffie said. “I was looking forward to this season and having one last run with my girls, who I have been playing with since the third grade. It is so hard for me to even think about, but I train every day as if we were going back tomorrow. I need to stay at the top of my game for the team.”
Panariello tells his peers to not let everything going on during the pandemic take a toll and offered the suggestion of keeping busy and not staying inside all the time. Leading by example, he said he has been going on walks, riding his bike, and shooting hoops in his driveway.
“I know I would rather be in school with all my friends, but try to do some- thing to keep yourself entertained. This is going to get better eventually, so try to stay in good spirits until it does,” Panariello said.
Rogers pointed out it is important to abide by the mandates put into effect in order to reduce spread of the virus.
“Take this social distancing seriously, as much as it is boring, because our best chance of slowing the growth of the pandemic and getting back to school is if we stay home now,” she said. “It is hard, but we can get through it.”