Outbreak Voices: A Crisis Shuts Down Senior Year

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced schools around the country to close. This is not the senior year the class of 2020 expected.

ISHAH DIOP: My senior year, I was expecting the galore of being the senior, meaning I just wanted the prom. I was excited for graduation, the senior privileges.

SIMON: That’s Ishah Diop of New York City.

DIOP: A part of my senior duties was to create a three-minute dance that I was already creating. I had my dance team already. I knew who was going to be in the piece. I started rehearsals. And the fact that I know I’m never going to be able to go back to my school and present the piece that I had worked on with the correct lights, with the correct costume is saddening.

My senior year was about my grandmother, specifically, because my grandmother hasn’t had any of her grandkids, per se, graduate high school. And neither has my mom graduated high school. So me graduating and being the first female in the family of my gran – like, underneath my grandmother – it was very important to give her that experience of sitting in graduation, being able to be there for her granddaughter, cheer my name, do the whole family dinner, the whole getting to take pictures with her in my cap and gown. Just the whole experience I felt like would have been a lot for her, my mom, even myself. I was really looking forward to it.

CHRIS DIER: I wrote an open letter to seniors who were going through this crisis. And it was designed to sort of let them know that their feelings are justified and should not be minimized.

SIMON: That’s a high school history teacher, Chris Dier. And he has some idea of the uncertainty that many students feel. Fifteen years ago this August, his senior year was completely upended when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and flooded his hometown of New Orleans.

DIER: I remember leaving school on a Friday and wondering those same questions. We never returned. We went to Texas, stayed in a hotel until my parents couldn’t afford it anymore. And then we were forced to go to a shelter. It was really hard to keep in touch with people. The Internet was still – it was a thing, but it wasn’t like what it was today. We didn’t have smartphones. We had to call each other, but people were changing phone numbers and whatnot. We could try to send emails. And so it was tough to keep in touch, but we tried the best that we could. And I did have to find solace in many different ways, ways that I didn’t previously envision.

My family made it out of Hurricane Katrina. We didn’t have any deaths. And my experience during Katrina shaped who I am, and it molded my identity in ways that I didn’t really envision at the time. Overall, it’s given me a greater sense of empathy for others who have faced hardships but also helped me start on my path to actually becoming a teacher and trying to give back to my community.

SIMON: Ishah Diop has never met Chris Dier, but she has read his letter and says it’s helped her understand what she and her classmates may be living through.

DIOP: Each kid who is a senior right now, we are all feeling like we lost something. But there’s also the sense of we’re going through something else. We’re going through something much bigger right now that is life-changing. Some people are really not making it. My mom had the virus. My brother and I were responsible for caring for her during this – for two weeks. And I had to keep a smile on my face, and I had to make sure my brother was OK when – that I was staying focused. So just understanding how to get through that is a good skill to just have in life. This pandemic – it has taught me to look beyond my own experience.


DIER: Ishah Diop, a high school senior in New York City. And we also heard from Chris Dier, a high school history teacher in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.