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Unorthodox Celebrations and Reconstructing the End of High School

08/11/2020 09:52:36 AM


by Charlotte Barrios

As my fellow graduates know all too well, graduating in the time of coronavirus has been extremely difficult. I have been picturing graduating from high school since elementary school. Imagining every detail, walking across the stage with my friends, my graduation party, college orientation. So many things that just were not able to happen. It was hard not having the experiences to match what I had so long imagined in my head. But, growing up in a reconstructionist synagogue, we know all about not doing things the way they’ve always been done, right? We have experience taking the old standard, traditional ways things are done, like, say, b’nai mitzvahs, and making them into our own, unique, personal experiences. And we know that when we do this, we make it so much more meaningful. So, instead of a boring, 3 hour long ceremony at the Georgia World Congress Center, where I shook someone’s hand I’ve never met and my mom was seated waaaay across the stadium, I had a drive through graduation, playing music loudly in my car, with my mom and sister right there with me. I waved to all my fellow students and teachers and had my diploma handed to me, by my principal, on a pizza shovel! Instead of a regular one and half day college orientation filled to the brim with icebreakers,  I got to have so many more opportunities to ask questions, about the next chapter of my life, in online presentations than I probably would have in the one trip I was going to make over the summer. The class of 2020 diverged from all that had come before. However, through it all, we made our own experiences. And, because it was so different, we got to get creative with how we attacked this new situation. We switched things up and, honestly, I believe it was so much more fun and memorable to graduate this way than in the traditional way. 

One of my favorite creative ways to celebrate graduation was the parade I organized for my neighborhood graduates. I wrote notes and delivered them to all the graduates who I knew lived in my neighborhood. There aren’t many of us, but I wanted every one of us to feel special. I also put out signs advertising to the neighbors and put it on Nextdoor, the neighborhood app. I put this all together within a week and even baked cupcakes in the process! When the time finally came for our parade I got dressed in my cap and gown and brought everything I had made down to the street: signs, a speaker, noisemakers, and, yes, the cupcakes. Now, some might have found it depressing that only one other graduate showed up to march with me, however, it turned into an amazing, powerfully uplifting experience. So many neighbors stepped out of their houses to cheer us on – mostly people we had never even met. One man even drove his truck down his driveway, set up a lawn chair, and raised his remote to set off his alarm as we passed. This virus may have caused the normal celebrations to be put on hold, but the Class of 2020 is so resilient we found ways to celebrate that might have been even more special. 

Another favorite way to celebrate was through drive through graduation parties. My friend Joyce decided she wasn’t going to let coronavirus get in her way and organized a graduation party at the bottom of her driveway. She brought out tables and chairs, all set 6 ft apart, and invited friends and family to stop by, offer congratulations, have some food, and talk. It was so nice to celebrate graduation with her and a couple of other close friends and not just by writing “congrats” on her grad post. We had not seen each other since school had been closed so we got to catch up and talk about our plans for this coming year and what TV shows we were currently binge watching. Having these short times to catch up face to face were so important to my graduation experience this year. 

Now as we end the summer of COVID-19 and unorthodox celebrations we move towards the next chapter in our lives. For me that is college, more specifically, George Mason University in Virginia. The coronavirus has led to creative adaptations for this as well. I was imagining meeting all my life-long friends at orientation and within the first few weeks of school in my classes. Now, however, orientation was moved online and all of my classes will be too. Masks will be required wherever you go on campus. How will I know if I see a friendly face? Will I only know my friends by their eyes and hair and never see the rest of their face for a full year? There were so many questions associated already with starting a new school and now, with COVID-19, so many more arise. So many time honored traditions will be postponed or canceled because large gatherings are prohibited. There are so many things I will miss out on in this coming year. But, with all these missed opportunities new ones will arise. We can be the first class to experience a new way to get acclimated to college. 

I have a lot of optimism for college. I cannot wait to start a new experience in such a different way than anyone before. At first, I was bummed about how my high school experience ended, but I soon found that I could have much more fun this new way. Just because something isn’t how it was for your parents or older siblings doesn’t mean it’s incorrect or not as special. Reconstructing graduation and the start of college actually makes it more special, more meaningful, more personal than just blindly following traditions. We will never forget the way we graduated and started the next chapter of our lives. I hope it will shape how we live for the rest of our days. I hope that, for each of you, you can find a way to put a fun, new twist on what lies ahead.

Sat, July 2 2022 3 Tammuz 5782