Reckoning with post-pandemic high school nostalgia
I miss high school. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write in my entire lifetime. Believe me, I was ecstatic to graduate. I practically skipped across the stage with my diploma in hand. But there is a part of me, now on my own at college, that misses the morning 8:20 bell and our school announcement detailing a weird meat “surprise” for lunch that was definitely last week’s leftovers. I dreaded walking up the three flights of stairs to get to my first class of the day but now I think back to it with fondness. High school came and went and as I spent over a year of it inside my home, begrudgingly logging into Google Classroom and treating every class like it was a personal podcast.
I remember when the pandemic first hit. It was the middle of junior year, with exams lurking around the corner. I was squared away in the library hoping for a release, a break. And then it happened. March 13, 2020: the announcement blared on the intercom stating that all students would be sent home early and more information would be available soon. I was relieved! I dodged a biology test and I was granted an extra week of spring break. But as the days droned on and the news became increasingly grim, it was clear that life was coming to a halt. I spent the following months consuming every type of media avaliable: the TikTok dances, “Love is Blind,” “Tiger King” and countless other documentaries. Atlanta, my hometown, was on lockdown and it felt like the only thing to do was sit still and collect my bearings.
As junior year ended, my favorite teachers sent out goodbye emails, my extracurriculars reconvened with a final Zoom meeting and I said goodbye to the seniors I hoped to see again. Then I clicked out of every tab I had opened and shut my laptop.
The summer of 2020 was a whirlwind. My eyes were glued to the news, as it seemed like there was a never-ending laundry list of social issues that needed to be addressed and the rising health crisis that direly needed to be fixed. I was filled with endless questions about my future. I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college or if that would even be an option. My school counselors frantically sent a hundred emails that summer about applying to safety schools, SAT cancellation dates and how to write our summer essays so we could get a perfect score on our International Baccalaureate exams. I strangely felt supported by my high school in an unpredictable time. I spent the rest of the summer pondering what would stand out on my college application and outlining my Common App essay.
Then senior year began. It was my last first day of high school. I sat perched at my dining room table and logged onto my computer. We started with an array of different icebreakers: our new favorite pandemic activities, our quarantine daily routines and how we felt about adjusting to a new normal. I had hoped that classes would feel energetic and inspired, almost like nothing had changed. My teachers tried to create a sense of normalcy—they even had us listen to morning announcements and create our own digital lockers. But I had a nagging sense of dread, like I just wanted to go home even though I was in my room. This feeling was persistent throughout the entirety of my senior year. I didn’t have homecoming, I didn’t see anyone from classes and sometimes I wouldn’t even get ready in the morning. I would just log on, turn my camera off and fall asleep in my pajamas. High school began to feel like more of a suggestion, as the prospect of college was right around the corner. Every time I submitted a college application I held my breath in anticipation. It was my chance at a whole new experience, an escape from my room.
The end of senior year arrived with a haste and restrictions began to ease up as more students got vaccinated. I was able to go to prom, an event that I had dreamed of since middle school. It felt like a rite of passage, a nod to the fact that I could celebrate all the months of grueling work. The DJ played the “Cha Cha Slide” and many other household favorites. The night felt like closure, it felt like what I had been missing out on for the past year. As the night was coming to close, I distinctly remember sitting in my pink prom dress with my high heels in hand. I took in that moment, everyone waving goodbye and hopping into their cars. I thought about what I wish the year had looked like, what I wish I could’ve had. I saw so many people that I never even knew I had missed. I was so busy working to get out of high school that I never really appreciated it until it all stopped.
We are taught that phases of our lives are temporary, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hold importance. High school, while a stepping stone to other great things, allowed moments of teaching and growth. Instead of filing those memories away, I believe that it should be commemorated in all of its awkward-filled glory.