In Their Own Words: The Class Of 2020 Reflects On Senior Year

Lila Altman arrives for her graduation ceremony at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School on May 6 in Bradley, Ill. Because of social distancing mandates instituted by the state to curtail the spread of COVID-19, graduates received their diplomas in a nearly-empty auditorium with no friends, family or relatives allowed to attend. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Once the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing stay-at-home orders took hold across the country, online learning and Zoom replaced classroom and IRL social interactions. Then, just as things started to reopen, Los Angeles and other cities across the country became embroiled in unrest following the death of George Floyd.

With so much going on, senior year for the class of 2020 has meant coping with unprecedented global events, while missing out on traditions that mark the end of high school. Prom, final hugs with friends and teachers and even graduation itself have been taken away or morphed into experiences that don't resemble the usual rites of passage.

We wanted to hear from young people - in their own words, videos, journal entries and poems - about their upended senior year.

So we reached out to high school seniors from schools across L.A.

First, we asked them to share their personal experiences with us.

Jump to personal experiences

LAist also asked them to creatively reflect on what senior year meant to them in light of the pandemic and protests through writing, photos, artwork, music and video diaries.

Jump to creative works

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Creative submissions are published with permission.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: LOOKING BACK ON SENIOR YEAR

We reached out to high school seniors from schools across L.A. and asked them to share their personal experiences with us.

Kyle Jones, 18, just graduated from Mendez High School in Boyle Heights. Kyle was the student body president and will be pursuing a degree in political science at Cal State Fullerton in the fall. He plans to attend law school in the future.

Kyle Jones (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

"I still feel bummed about grad night being cancelled. It's a shame I'll never be able to experience it. But I'm also quite sad that we didn't get to experience prom or a physical graduation ceremony. It's a very unfortunate time."

Katherine Bower (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Katherine Bower, 18, is a graduate of Campbell Hall, an Episcopal K-12 school in Studio City. Katherine ran a club called Passion for Change, which helps underserved communities, and was a member of her school's steel drum band. She will be pursuing a business degree at the University of Southern California in the fall.

"I'm definitely super hopeful for freshman year and of course, we all want the most normal experience we can get. But we have to understand that that's not necessarily possible for anyone right now."

Daisy Santos, 17, a graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, was captain of her school's drill team. Daisy will be attending UC Irvine in the fall and majoring in theatre.

(Photo courtesy Daisy Santos)

"Being at home, you just have so much freedom and you get to spend your time however you want. So you kind of forget your tasks and your responsibilities. It's been pretty hard staying focused while not being on campus."

Kiera Martin, 18, is a graduate of Immaculate Heart High School in Los Feliz. She was president of her school's psychology club and helped run a teen crisis hotline. Kiera originally planned to attend University of St. Andrews in Scotland in the fall to pursue a history degree. But with travel restrictions still in place for now, she is considering taking a gap year.

Kiera Martin (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

"I think that there's a lot of emotions running high, especially for Black Americans like myself.

It's felt like we're just getting a constant stream of news. I'll go to a protest and then emotions will be high. And then I'll come home and I'll look at social media and just every single post, there's something new, there's something that's gone wrong. So it's definitely been a lot to cope with and deal with.

Diego Grijalva, 18, is also a graduate of Mendez High School in Boyle Heights. Diego was a member of the swim and cheerleading teams. He will be attending East Los Angeles College in the fall and plans to eventually transfer to Cypress College to begin training to become a mortician.

(Photo courtesy Diego Grijalva)

"I would have definitely enjoyed walking up on stage for my grandma [and] for my parents, because I know they've been there throughout my entire high school experience and all my learning experiences. Moving forward they'll continue to support me but I know that it would have been really nice for them to see me walk the stage and pick up my diploma, because they've been putting in that work to help me get there."

Miles Kirshner, 17, graduated from Palisades Charter High School. There, Miles played on the baseball team. He is planning to attend Cal State Northridge in the fall to pursue a degree in business administration.

Miles Kirshner (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

"I would say the hardest part isn't necessarily graduation. I mean, that's special. But at the end of the day, it's not about the ceremony. It's really about the memories that got you to the ceremony, and it's about the things that you did before the ceremony. Like, prom, grad night, just being out with your friends.

I think that's the hardest part...having everything else that made [high school] so memorable canceled, just like that. Everybody I know, I could ask them, 'Who'd you go to senior prom with?' and they'll know. I knew who I would have gone with. For the class of 2020, we'll never forget this. This will be something that sticks with us the rest of our [lives]."

Some of the graduates above were part of TakeTwo's show on seniors navigating COVID-19 and graduation. Listen to that round-table here.

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SENIOR YEAR THROUGH CREATIVE EXPRESSION

LAIst also asked the high school class of 2020 to creatively reflect on what senior year meant to them, in light of the pandemic and protests - through poetry, essays, photos, artwork, music, video and diary entries.

Here's what they sent us.

(Courtesy Amanda A.)

Amanda A.

Age 17

Long Beach

Long Beach Polytechnic High School

"Senior year feels so much more precious to me, because a lot of it was taken away from me so suddenly. I treasure the happy times I've had at school and with my friends even more now that those times are gone. I feel almost like I didn't really graduate, because I feel like I haven't even completed my senior year."

"Goodbye, Jackrabbits," original music, lyrics and vocals by Amanda A.

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(Courtesy Cyn G.)

Cyn G.

Age 17

Baldwin Park

Sierra Vista High School

"Senior year and graduation for the class of 2020 meant opportunity. Opportunity to prove every prior generation that doubted us wrong. It meant being strong for not only yourself but for your peers that are struggling too. Senior year and graduation among the era of COVID-19 meant unity."

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(Courtesy Sabrina Y.)

Sabrina Y.

Age 18

Los Angeles

John Marshall High School

"Especially for graduating seniors, 2020 is the year of 'could-be's.' It could've been a fantastic culmination to our standard education. It could've been a great send-off to the adult world. What I do know, is what it is: A hysterical tragic comedy."

Journal entries:

6/9/2020

So I guess I'm... done? With high school now.

* * *

6/10/2020

There is much cause for concern, me.

Because increasingly, I find myself to be scatterbrained. Probably a result of both my regularly interrupted hibernation and lack of people stimulus.

There's so much uncertainty clouding around me, and I don't like being on foggy grounds. Not many do.

There is especially much cause for concern for me now, because... see, okay, you look at this girl right? And she's just turned into an "adult" in the most textbook sense of the word.

You see this girl — and she's really just hopeless. She hasn't gotten a driver's license yet. What are taxes? Can't cook. Can't sleep. Can't keep track of dates or the time. Can't ADULT.

This girl, she doesn't want to become a woman, even though she probably already has.

This girl, kept straight As all throughout high school, then promptly gave up in quarantine. She can worry, fret, stress over whether or not her college will care, but she can't shift the blame to anyone else other than herself. Because, well, she's not THAT good at lying to herself.

This girl needs a guide, and she knows it. A hand to hold, because everything needs to be spelled out to her. But really, who'll hold her hand in this world? In a life so quickly spinning and changing, that this entire world very may as well be rolling on a treadmill at the highest speed.

She... is going to be gone. This girl. She'll be gone soon, and replaced with someone else.

That's you.

Or, future me. You don't exist yet. Not until you pick this up and read it.

You can't tell me anything, too late for that, so do this instead.

Look around. Look at yourself. Reflect. Preferably in a well lit mirror.

Have you gained more weight? Are your dark circles still as prominent as ever? Did you... learn to do the unspeakable? To adult?? For my sake, I sure hope you did.

Do... things get better? By that I mean, has the increasing urge to get the heck away from America only increased some more? Or has it lessened considerably since 2020?

I guess one light way to think of all of this is this: At least things can only go up from here... maybe. Who knows really? I mean, can life come up with a combo more creative than a pandemic, global environmental deterioration, and reforming protests?

Probably. I know they've done worse in the past. Just wish they didn't have to do it in a year as pretty looking as 2020.

* * *

Knowing me, you're probably reading this out of procrastinating boredom, so I'll go on for a little while longer.

I don't know what to do. In terms of my major, what career I want to pursue, etc. I really don't think romance is gonna play a huge role in your life, so least that drama's out of the way.

But seriously, what am I to do?

I'll always love writing, drawing, just plain creating in general. But there's so many paths to go down on. And they ALL take a lot of time to walk through. I don't want to travel some path, only to go back for another to start all over again.

But then again, I suppose life will just take me wherever they please. I just need to find a major that could best link to all of these similar, but different things I want to do and...

* * *

Writing this out helped a bit. See, this is why I should keep a diary. A journal of sorts. But every attempt I've given to a daily entry in my life always ends up with year long hiatuses in between.

Like the one I'm about to drop now.

Goodbye.

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Gray B.

Age 18

Los Angeles

Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES)

"Senior year means entering a new chapter, not only for our graduating class but for the entire country. Battling systemic racism and a global pandemic, the class of 2020 has the chance to truly make a difference and utilize the activism and drive we have shown in the past years. I am so proud to be a part of the trailblazers of the future! Class of 2020 we did it!"

Untitled

You surround yourself with white walls

Praying the virtue cleanses your tarnished soul

Hoping it contains the thoughts that stray too far from who you want to be

Crossing the lines you attempt to construe through misconstrued means

Maintain the masquerade of perfection

You carry the weight of eggshell colored walls

Allow them to behold the memories you locked away

Cold brown eyes blazing with disgust

You allow the room to wash away the tears that have begun to wear grooves into your face

Showcasing barren streams

The walls comfort you

Close in when the voices start to become too much

The need for perfection outweighing your desire for sanity

And throughout the turbulent times

When people become temporary placeholders

Meaningless companions

When the cracks behind the pristine paint begin to show through the spackle

You exhale

And the mask starts to slip

Revealing bloodshot eyes and snot filled nostrils

Shaking hands and tapping feet

Wounds impalpable to sight

Because perfection is never easy

And behind the girl whose whittled away her shortcomings to make inadequacy adequate

Is who you really are

Buried in a wooden coffin choking on drywall

Nursing wounds with paint primer

But as long as your walls are up

And your mask stays in place

Then your persona becomes all you are

Because perfection is exhaustive

But weakness would mean failure

So you behold the unmarred ivory beauty

Until the fractures beneath the spackle subside

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(Courtesy Galylea S.)

Galylea S.

Age 18

Montclair

Claremont High School

"It was a year where beginnings and endings were not clear, which is why now I am eager to end this chapter and start the next."

Senior Year Brings On Uncertainty

The beginning of senior year was something surreal. Walking down the halls, seeing everyone carrying their books and scrolling through social media. It was something I was used to seeing everyday for the past three years of my life. But now it hit me. I was looking at it through the eyes of a senior. It was my last year of high school, and it was the last time I would ever see many of the people I was so used to seeing every day. It had become routine, the same people, even people I didn't know - but there was a sense of comfort in knowing I'd see them every day after third period.

My friends and I had spent years talking about senior activities, the ones we'd seen all the senior three generations above us do, like when the quad was closed off and it was "Senior Sit Out." Those things never came to be, and instead of June 11 being our last day of school, it was March 13. And it was a Friday, just to add a kick for the superstitious people out there.

Ten days before the unknown last day of school, I had broken my toe, so I had only been back at school a few days before this happened, and I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with it all. That Friday, the 13th, my mom called me during third period, my first period of the day. I was a little surprised because she never calls me during school, or if she does and I don't answer she resorts to texting it out. But, this time she didn't say anything, she just said, "Llama me," or, "Call me."

As soon as the bell rang and it was the rush hour before office hours, I called her. I wasn't expecting anything different, I honestly thought it was going to be unusual gossip - something gripping. In a way, it was gripping, but not the kind I expected.

She was let go from her job. I never know how to act when people are emotional, but it's not an excuse for not saying anything at all, in my opinion. So, I said what was in my heart, because I know she knows me and what I mean. She was a caregiver, to a woman named Margarita, and Margarita's family let my mom go because they had heard more about how elderly people are at greater risk of COVID-19. So, it was Friday the 13th, the last unknown day of school, I had a broken toe, and my mom was let go, AND there was a virus on the loose. Not to mention, everything else that had happened early on in 2020, globally and locally with the fires in Australia and my school's online system getting hacked.

Now, it's been a few confusing months after and I can honestly say things have never felt more uncertain in my life. I know there's no way of escaping uncertainty, but now it just feels like it's the only thing to feel. From not knowing what my first semester of college will be like to not knowing when my mom will find a stable job. Despite everything we have held it together, our Mexican culture has shown through these past few months and my grandma's sayings too. We find strength in the most unusual places — a drop of sweetness can last through the day. My mom has been looking endlessly, and we've even thought of making bracelets to sell online.

It doesn't stop there. After too many horrifying murders involving racism and the Black community, it's been a time of ripping off the Band-Aid for many and accepting that there is a problem unresolved. People all around me are in support of Black Lives Matter, but when social media is so prevalent, we're bound to find opposing views. It just baffles me how to some people the lives of others don't matter just because of their skin color. It breaks my heart when I see children, the innocence and pure love radiate from them and it is the epitome of hope, in front of the angry world people have created. But, I do believe there will be justice for the hundreds of years of injustice.

Politics is another thing to get into, but ever since I learned how deep polarization runs in the veins of American people, I have created a space for myself to see both sides and form an opinion based on that. I believe this world will become more mindful when people start being open-minded about things that matter in everyday life. There are so many people I've met that just make a blind decision because they believe that just because they've identified with something all their lives it cannot change. Well, to those people I say, take a step back and reflect, because, with just a few minutes of doing so, your life can change.

I've learned so much these past few months and although the future is uncertain, as it will always be, I am learning to let myself grow without feeling ashamed of being a beginner in life. I am excited about the uncertainty and I am happy with who I am and where I am and that is something I know for certain.

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Carla Javier, Gina Pollack and Dana Amihere contributed to this report.