Pandemic causes senior-year disappointment


Jennifer Sangalang

Jade Norton (12) takes senior class photos.

When Senior Jade Norton left school March 13 after the annual Wildcat Challenge, she had not anticipated the possibility of not returning before graduation in May. But for the Class of 2020, the finale of the high-school experience is unlike any other.

With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the country, school closures have been extended through May 4. For the seniors, that means events such as Prom, Grad Bash and Senior Breakfast have been canceled.

“I feel cheated,” Norton said. “I think the most frustrating part is that there is nothing I, nor the principal, can do about this situation. Every decision concerning my education, and even my graduation, for heaven’s sake, is out of my hands. I have worked so hard the last few years taking six AP classes junior year, ensuring I have good grades and pouring my extra time into extracurriculars, [which] made me expect to have it pay off senior year.”

While students and teachers alike have their own challenges to face regarding the outbreak of the coronavirus, seniors such as Norton are tasked with coping with the loss of the traditional senior-year experiences.

“I want to point out that people’s lives are at stake and I am aware and empathize with that seeing how my diabetic, 70-year-old grandma is staying with us for the time being,” Norton said. “I don’t want to say it’s overreacting since I wouldn’t want to ever risk my grandma’s health. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I was responsible for infecting her because she would die. While lives are more important than the small, yet personally important, events that have been cancelled, it still has caused my positive attitude to at times be overcome with sadness, anger, confusion and disappointment all at once like a flood.”

When the novel coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, China in December, the virus was off the radar for most seniors as they prepared for their final semester of their high-school careers. On Jan. 20, however, the United States confirmed its first case of the virus. The coronavirus rapidly became a worldwide pandemic, leading to unprecedented measures for school districts across the nation.

“I never would have imagined that it would evolve into what it has become today,” Norton said. “Everything is closed, schools have been shut down until God knows when, people no longer spend time with one another [and there is] no social gathering. No one could’ve predicted this.”

Norton, alongside her peers, will miss senior speeches, senior send-off and the dessert concert for the theater department, as well as lose the chance to perform in one of her favorite musicals “Anything Goes” as Reno Sweeney.

“You know, on New Year’s Eve I was thinking, ‘2020 is going to be my year,’” Norton said. “Boy, was I wrong about that.”

As of March 30, Brevard Public Schools have turned to online learning through platforms such as FOCUS, Google Classroom, and Zoom. While this provides an outlet for students to continue their education, for seniors the question still remains: Will they be returning to campus before they graduate?

“The virus has caused some divide as I have been short with my parents for not letting me go out,” Norton said. “And there’s just been more bickering as we all are cooped up in the house. It’s all just been a very interesting experience as I never argue with my parents.”

Norton’s mother, Jennifer Sangalang, said she understands her daughter’s disappointment.

“Wach signature senior event cancellation has been a punch in the gut,” she said. “As a parent, we want the very best for our kids. We understand, but it’s still sad.”

Sangalang’s family has turned to social distancing as a way to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Data regarding the coronavirus is ever-changing, with U.S. cases reaching 184,183 as of 4:55 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s strange and scary times with this coronavirus pandemic,” Sangalang said. “Fear of the unknown.When will this end? That’s the number one question I hear, and it’s one I can’t help asking too. A two-week vacation with my mom and 3-year-old niece has been extended indefinitely while we wait out the virus. It’s been fun having a little one, my mom and our teenager around. It’s a little like [the TV show] ‘Full House.’”

Sangalang said this unexpected extension to what was supposed to be a one-week Spring Break, has caused “I’m sorry” to be a common message within her household.

“There are a lot of apologies, even though we’ve done nothing wrong,” Sangalang said. “‘I’m sorry this has been canceled, I’m sorry you miss your friends, I’m sorry we’ve lost a little bit of our freedoms.’ Phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘be careful out there’ get said at least a dozen times a day. We try to be there for Jade, to listen to her vent. Communication is so important. E-communication is great, too. We welcome FaceTime, Snaps, Stories, an occasional visit with her boyfriend or her best friend, at the park or outside, so long as they practice social distancing. She’s a teenager, and we want her to try to live as normal a life as possible.”

Helping to manage social media accounts for USA Today’s Florida network, Sangalang said that she has “seen in real-time the fear, the nerves, the anger” that have accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.

“As we adapt to ‘the new normal’ amid this coronavirus pandemic, I hope to see people band together,” Sangalang said. “How we react, how we help each other out during tough times could make or break us. I hope to see this crisis bring out the best in humanity.”

As Sangalang and her family try to remain optimistic, the uncertainty of the situation still resonates disappointment for Norton.

“The thought of not returning to school is a bitter-sweet sentiment,” Norton said. “Senior year, and technically having no more school sounds sweet, plus no chance of infecting my grandma. Yet this is the last portion of time that I would be able to spend with my friends before we all leave for college.”

The federal government has extended its social distancing parameters until April 30, in an effort to lessen the spread of the coronavirus. American residents have been advised to stay home and prevent as much interaction with others as possible. For schools, this means that a traditional senior year experience has been modified by the coronavirus.

“I just can’t believe and it makes me ache that I won’t get to finish my senior year the way everyone had always imagined,” Norton said. “To sum it all up for the Class of 2020, this sucks.”

By Sophia Bailly