As students all across the country come to terms with the fact that their school years have ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 outbreak, seniors deal with added stressors. Graduations, proms, final sports seasons, all cancelled. Central’s class of 2020, from construction inconveniences to 8 am football games, have had their fair share of struggles. These hardships extend outside Central’s realm for many as they deal with job losses, choosing a college, or simply missing out on important milestones.
Senior Kia Southerland, headed to Salisbury University in Maryland next fall, worked part-time at the Savoy 16 movie theatre this school year. Savoy 16’s parent company, Goodrich Quality Theatres, filed for bankruptcy in late February. Considering the oncoming pandemic, Savoy 16 decided to close its doors for the time being, leaving its employees suddenly jobless. “We were all out of a job, just like that, over two days.” said Southerland.
Immediately following the loss of her job at Savoy 16, she applied to her current job at Smoothie King. “They immediately started training me, literally back to back days, I worked for five days in a row,” Kia now spends five mornings a week at Smoothie King as an essential worker. “For someone who just started working, I’m working, like, 25 hour weeks.”
With Illinois schools switching to e-learning for the remainder of the semester, students must adjust to learning outside the traditional classroom setting, or, choosing to keep their current grades and put other responsibilities first. Kia is allowing herself to focus on work, “In a way, I feel like a full-time worker because I don’t have school to fill that other void. It’s been interesting because now when I would be waking up, getting ready for school, I’m getting ready to go to work…”
“This [pandemic] has definitely catapulted me into adulthood,” said Southerland. “[I]t’s weird to not have another time-consuming commitment,” outside of school for her.
Before Central’s graduation ceremony was rescheduled to July, Kia expressed her concern over the cancellation of the ceremony. “That’s something every high school student looks forward to… I’m sad I’m missing out on my senior prom, my senior [soccer] season.”
Since Illinois’ stay-at-home order has prevented any social gatherings, the disruption of the old routine of seeing friends every day at school has become difficult. “I just miss seeing my friends,” said Southerland, “I feel like I took that for granted… and now that has drastically changed for me.”
The severity of this pandemic has taken a while to set in for many, including our own school district. “I wish our school district would understand that these are the circumstances,” Southerland said in response to the lack of solid plans for Honors Day and graduation. “[Y]ou’re giving people this false hope, and in a time like this, having some hope would be good but the reality of this isolation is going to be extended.”
Another senior, Maddie Henson, was a standout theatre star at Central. Her biggest roles at Central have included Princess Fiona in the C2 production of Shrek, Esmerelda in the C2 production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Morticia Addams in The Addams Family. Maddie was cast as the lead role of Elle Woods in the acting class production of Legally Blonde, which was set to perform in late May prior to its cancellation.
“This show, Legally Blonde, is a really empowering show for women and I would’ve really liked to spread that to my peers,” said Henson, “its also just a really fun musical.” After spending four years with her fellow Central drama members, Maddie wanted one final show to honor her castmates. “This show is really ensemble-based which would’ve allowed a lot of people to get closer one last time.”
Per Central tradition, the drama seniors get their own senior night similar in the way of sports teams. “We won’t really have that anymore because of this,” said Henson. In addition to not being able to perform their final show in Decker Theatre, there will be no theatre to come back to, as it is scheduled to be demolished in the renovation. Thespian seniors were permitted to continue the tradition of painting their handprints backstage, the final class to do so in Decker.
Henson’s favorite Central theatre moment was selling out performances for The Addams Family in November of last year. The #PackDecker movement was supported by a show that “ties people together… it’s just fun, it’s about family which is what Central strives to be,” said Henson.
Outside of Decker, Maddie planned on joining the track team. “I really like being part of [a team] not even for athletic goals that I had, I just wanted to be part of something fun and get to know people in another group besides theatre.”
Once again, the transition to e-learning has proven to be difficult for many, “It’s hard to stay motivated whenever you’re not actually in class, and especially being a second semester senior and already having senioritis and being so close to the end.” said Henson.
One of the hardest aspects of quarantine for Maddie was the passing of her grandmother. “We couldn’t even have a big funeral for her, only, like, ten people were allowed to be there and we didn’t get to have a memorial service or anything… we won’t be able to celebrate her memory or anything for months after she’s already passed away.”
Henson also worries that Central seniors infamous traditions will be lost this year, “It’s a lot about tradition, missing out on things seniors have had for years… little traditions like senior ditch day, the senior prank, going around the school and honking… things like that that you can’t really get back. That’s been the hardest to accept about all of this.”
Maddie will attend the University of Arizona in the fall studying communications but plans to either switch majors or add a minor in Theatre.
Liara Aber, staying local at the U of I this fall, had more than just her final months of high school taken away. Over the summer and into this past fall, Liara battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma, undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy that kept her out of the classroom and the pool.
“I felt like the beginning of my senior year was taken away from me, including half of my swim season, because I was sick with cancer,” said Aber. While she has been in remission since October, she especially looked forward to the last half of the year to start anew. “I have looked forward to the year 2020 and graduating for as long as I can remember. After everything that has happened to me, I was counting on 2020 to be the best year ever.”
A dual-sport athlete, Liara dominated in the pool as well as on the soccer pitch, and with soccer losing a strong senior class, she looked forward to stepping up to fill a starting role. “I was going to have prom, graduation, an amazing soccer season, start college, and do it all while being healthy. In reality, the opposite happened.”
As Liara’s final year of school started out in a far more unusual way than other Central students, all she wanted was to end it as a “normal, healthy teenager.” We all wish it could have ended that way as well.