No one expects a global pandemic to upend those distinct traditions high school seniors cherish: prom, that last performance or game, graduation, and a final summer spent with friends. But for local high school seniors, this is the new reality they’re grappling with as they finish their last school year at home.
“It’s just really weird,” said Mica Sherf, 18, a senior at Marblehead High School, who will likely attend Brandeis University in the spring 2021 semester. “Everything feels chaotic. And I mean, of course, I want to go back to school. I want everything to go back to normal.”
Sherf, who uses they/them pronouns, was one of the first in the school’s senior class to raise concerns about the pandemic. After taking a course in the fall on infectious disease, Sherf followed the news on the virus’s spread long before it hit Marblehead. “Me and a few other kids were the first ones to start bringing it up, just talking about what was going down. And my math teacher dubbed us ‘the class that really likes to talk about the coronavirus,’” said Sherf.
By Friday, March 13, the school was shut down.
The timing of the shutdown felt especially cruel for Emma Ferrante, 18, also a senior at Marblehead High School, because softball tryouts were supposed to start the following Monday, and Ferrante was a team captain this year. “I was really looking forward to my last season with basically the family I grew up with my whole life,” said Ferrante, who plans to attend Colby Sawyer College this fall. To keep sane, the team has been “going to our high school parking lot and just sitting in our car trunks, all six feet away from each other, and just talking and catching up,” she said.
Ben Kemp, 17, a senior at Peabody High School, feels similarly pulled away from his soccer teammates, who have become some of his best friends. “It’s more frustrating than anything else, because I’m just stuck at home,” he said of the shutdown. “I can’t go anywhere or hang out with my friends and have a normal senior year,” he said. The stakes are high for Kemp, who is moving to Orlando this fall to start college at the University of Central Florida’s business school. “I’ll be going to another state, it’s gonna be a really big adjustment for me,” he said. “If there is social distancing, and we don’t even go to school, it’s just gonna delay everything, trying to make new friends and start a new chapter of my life down there.”
A month ago, none of this seemed possible as students went about their senior years. “When this whole pandemic started, we thought it was just going to be online school for around two weeks, we thought, ‘OK, this is exciting. We get two weeks of a new type of learning,’” said Jenn Bloom, 18, a senior at The Academy at Penguin Hall in Wenham. “As I like to tell people, I didn’t know my last day of high school would be on March 12.”
Bloom, who grew up in Lynnfield, had only enrolled at the all-girls school in 2018, excited for a fresh start. In her short time at Penguin Hall, she became student body president, was a member of the Jewish Student Union, was co-editor of the yearbook and worked on the crew for the theater department. “There were so many opportunities for me to explore new passions and things that I could take leadership positions on,” said Bloom who is still deciding whether to attend Colby College or Connecticut College.
Bloom was most upset about missing her prom, so she staged a photo shoot in her yard in her gown and makeup. “What do I have to lose? I want to make it feel slightly normal. And so I figured getting ready for a fake prom would make me feel a little bit better,” she said.
Despite the abrupt ending to their high school careers, the seniors are doing their best to preserve some sense of closure. “Right now, I’m hoping that at least we can just have a graduation,” said Kemp. “That’s really what I want out of everything. And it’s the farthest away, so that gives me the most hope that it’ll actually happen.”
Ferrante said she’s hoping to run around the bases on her softball field in Marblehead one last time. “No matter what it takes, Johnny Gold [the Marblehead softball coach] will always make sure that our seniors get that final moment because we’ve been working with him for so long,” she said.