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Freundel: Francis Scott Key seniors handling disappointment, uncertainty of unprecedented situation

Francis Scott Key seniors received signs celebrating their graduation amid the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning. Educators Wes Winters and Mickey Brilhart and senior Kirstin Kurtz are pictured.
Francis Scott Key seniors received signs celebrating their graduation amid the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning. Educators Wes Winters and Mickey Brilhart and senior Kirstin Kurtz are pictured. (Courtesy photo)

When discussing the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 1.3 million Americans, the word “unprecedented” is used often, though not in the sense that humankind has never before been faced with a catastrophic pandemic.

In 1918, a strain of the flu (H1N1) decimated the world population, claiming 50 million lives. In the 1980s, HIV/AIDS ravaged American communities, not only instilling fear of the virus but also a fear of those ​infected ​ with the virus in the American public, further stigmatizing the disease. Americans are no strangers to nationwide and even global medical crises.

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Younger generations, however, have always maintained a 6-foot distance from medical catastrophes, making their first encounter with this global pandemic all the more frightening and, indeed, unprecedented.

Healthy high school students (14-18-year-olds) are in the lowest risk group for COVID-19. Because of this, many teens have partaken in risky behavior that not only puts them but puts the surrounding community at risk.

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This behavior includes, but is not limited to, throwing “quarantine parties,” going to parks with large groups of friends, and taking trips to other counties and states. In an abundance of caution and somewhat in response to reckless behaviors exhibited by Marylanders of all age groups, Gov. Larry Hogan enacted a stay-at-home directive, which was shortly followed by State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon’s announcement that Carroll County Public Schools’ closure would be extended through the end of the 2019-20 school year.

How are Francis Scott Key’s students coping in these unprecedented and uncertain circumstances?

Francis Scott Key seniors received signs celebrating their graduation amid the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning. Educators Wes Winters and Mickey Brilhart and senior Kirstin Kurtz are pictured.
Francis Scott Key seniors received signs celebrating their graduation amid the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning. Educators Wes Winters and Mickey Brilhart and senior Kirstin Kurtz are pictured. (Courtesy photo)

These young adults are not only burdened with having to process the knowledge that an unknown and incurable virus, which has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands, is burning through the American populous without any signs of slowing, they are also having to learn to be content in a world where they no longer get to attend school, nor finish out spring sports, nor perform in the school musical, nor see their friends.

This disappointment, compounded by deep fear of the inevitable, has left many of Key’s students, particularly seniors, helpless. Complaining is fruitless, as none can deny that the measures taken by the state and federal governments are effective and have been taken in the best interests of all involved.

So, how are Key’s seniors dealing with change and disappointment? With a mix of uncertainty, fear and unbridled optimism.

“The thought of having already walked the halls of Key the last time as a student devastates me,” said senior Hailey Miller, a member of yearbook and the cheer squad. “I don’t know how to put myself at ease.

“It's the small things that I miss the most. I miss walking out of the school at the end of the day to a friend-filled parking lot, waving goodbye to as many people as I could.”

That opinion was echoed by senior Devyn Schuman.

“I miss everyone at school so much. However, I have tried to put life into perspective and pray for those who are battling this virus on the front lines and those who have already gotten sick," Schuman said.

Francis Scott Key senior Abby Shelton poses with the congratulatory sign given out to all members of the Class of 2020.
Francis Scott Key senior Abby Shelton poses with the congratulatory sign given out to all members of the Class of 2020. (Courtesy photo)

Paige Belt has found good in the situation.

“Having a break from school and less school work has really helped me mentally," Belt said. "Online schooling allows me to learn how to pace myself without instruction, which isn’t taught in school but will be needed for college.”

When not participating in online classes and completing homework, Key’s seniors keep busy by taking walks, riding bikes, drawing, playing music, reading, fishing, and watching Tik Toks.

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Many Key seniors are part-time workers. Some have been distinguished by the state as essential workers.

Donovan Villegas, a cashier at 7-Eleven, has been distinguished as such.

“I now have a paper that says I can leave to go to work. That part is especially surreal. The idea that someone could essentially ask me ‘Papers, please’ is pretty weird,” Villegas said.

Francis Scott Key senior Carlye Nance, one of those who will be graduating amid the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning, received a sign celebrating the Class of 2020
Francis Scott Key senior Carlye Nance, one of those who will be graduating amid the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning, received a sign celebrating the Class of 2020 (Courtesy photo)

“I wear a mask at work now and hand sanitizer is next to me at all times. Being a cashier in a pandemic has definitely made me paranoid, since cash is the dirtiest thing you can touch," Villegas said. “We have limited the amount of customers in the store to two at any one time. All our toilet paper is gone, we already sold out of the shipment of hand sanitizer we received.

“It's a weird sense of normalcy mixed with anxiety whenever I'm at work. I consider myself lucky to have a job.”

Aside from processing disappointment and change in this time of online schooling, many seniors are also struggling to make a concrete college decision. Because of COVID-19, most colleges have closed campuses and canceled on-campus visits, forcing seniors to choose a college that they have potentially never seen in person.

Hannah Hockensmith, Key’s senior class president, expressed disappointment over not being able to finish out her last season of softball, a sport which she has dedicated years to, and potentially not being able to deliver Key’s commencement ceremony speech, something that she has looked forward to since seventh grade.

Hockensmith, who has been accepted to multiple universities, fears that COVID-19 will also impact the next four years of her life.

Francis Scott Key seniors Rachel Wright and Justin Rieger,who will be graduating amid the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning, received a sign celebrating the Class of 2020.
Francis Scott Key seniors Rachel Wright and Justin Rieger,who will be graduating amid the coronavirus pandemic and distance learning, received a sign celebrating the Class of 2020. (Courtesy photo)

“​Online tours and information sessions don’t even compare to being on campus. An online tour doesn’t show you the surrounding town, doesn’t let you know if the students carry a sunny disposition or if they’re haughty, doesn’t give you a vibe,” Hockensmith said. “For someone who planned to use admitted students days to see some colleges, corona has affected the next four years of my life now too.

“The reach of coronavirus cancellations don’t just hurt me now; they’ve touched the past and future four years of my life and struck me out with a curve ball on my last at bat.”

COVID-19 has touched and infected every aspect of American life, closing stores and schools and leaving public places once bustling with people desolate.

It is in this uncertain and unsteady climate that Key’s Class of 2020 graduates and moves onto their future. In the midst of missing friends and teachers and painstakingly deliberating college decisions behind the glow of a cell phone screen, they have found hope that, one day in the future, this will all be over.

And when that day comes, we will all have a greater appreciation for handshakes, hugs, and waking up at 6 a.m. to walk through the doors of Cornfield High.

Carolina Freundel is a student at Francis Scott Key High School.

Francis Scott Key senior Kirstin Kurtz with her congratulatory sign.
Francis Scott Key senior Kirstin Kurtz with her congratulatory sign. (Courtesy photo)

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