When South Carroll High School seniors learned on March 13 that public schools in Maryland would close for two weeks, Ayden Behn and his friends rejoiced.
“We didn’t think it was going to be this big,” said the incoming freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. “We took it as a nice, two-week break from everything.”
Within a few weeks, the school closure would extend again, then once more, before officials determined that students would finish the academic year in an online-only setting to stave off the spread of the coronavirus. This has posed a particular challenge to students of low-income families, who might lack laptops or access to broadband internet, as well as pre-existing hurdles to an equal education.
But it has also proved especially frustrating for high school seniors such as Behn, who have grown up watching their siblings and friends move on from high school with plenty of pomp and circumstance.
“We thought we’d be able to go to prom and do all that senior stuff — we were excited to go back and do that,” he said. “I worked so hard for 12 years, and I didn’t get to experience the best three months of it.”
Seniors across Maryland have commemorated the culmination of their high school tenure with virtual graduation ceremonies and even proms held on Zoom, with signs on their front lawns, and with FaceTime and Instagram.
Carroll County Public Schools staff on May 20 unveiled a plan that would let families schedule a time to come into the school building one at a time so seniors can walk the stage and receive a diploma from their principal, accompanied by four family members.
But this wave of Generation Z has expressed profound disappointment over what they have lost — and confusion about the next chapter.
“It’s making it hard,” said South Carroll senior Abbie Shorter, who will study at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia — when the school determines that it can house students on the campus. “College is already a huge transition, and those milestones that people normally do, it’s closing one chapter — but we didn’t get that.”
Instead, students have stayed in touch by phone and text, sending one another memes and TikTok videos to pass the time. Behn, Shorter and Chase Cote, who all met in high school chorus, share an equal desire to leave Carroll County, but aren’t sure when they can safely do so.
Across the country, universities are debating how and when to open campus grounds to students, with some choosing to conduct classes mostly online and others considering shortening the semesters and eliminating long weekends to discourage traveling.
Cote, who has enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia, said he has clung onto the idea of a normal first semester to maintain a sense of hope amid all the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“I feel like I’m ready and prepared — I just want to move forward,” he said. “Everything that we had been used to has just been paused and put off.”
These three South Carroll seniors have also faced unwelcome grief after one of their classmates, Noah Homayouni, was shot and killed in April, weeks into the school closure. There were no school-wide assemblies to be held, no hugs to share in the halls. Just solitary sadness within the confines of their own homes.
“We didn’t just lose senior year,” Behn said.
For now, the three friends will hold close to one another, treasuring the time they have left together in the same town. It could be their last summer together.
“I feel like I’m always going to be wondering how it could have been different — having the proper ending,” Shorter said. “There’s a lot of people we didn’t get to say goodbye to.”
Times reporter Catalina Righter contributed to this article.