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2020’s not-so-little pandemic put a hold on many plans. For a lot of 2024 graduates, this meant moments from their last semester of high school were pushed aside and replaced with staying at home. Now, four years later, these seniors reflect on what this time meant to them, and how they got to where they are now at CUW.

Emma Druckmiller

March 13, 2020, is a date I will never forget. In fact, I can recall the exact location I was at when I received an email that my high school would be shutting down through the next week and we had to grab any books we would need. I was in the back section of the cafeteria which erupted in cheers, high fives, and exclamations of glee regarding how we wouldn’t have to return to the school. As students, we thought we would essentially have an extra spring break. Little did we know we wouldn’t return to normal high school ever again.

 After spending that extra week learning from home, we were extended another week and another until we were resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t be returning ever. We received instructions about clearing out our lockers with certain alphabet sections going at different times to maintain social distancing. Every year on the last day of school, my high school would play the song “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper and I looked forward to hearing it on my last day of senior year – sadly that day never came. My last day in school was spent silently trudging to my locker with my mask as my only witness as I solemnly cleared out my books and gym clothes.

Seeing friends every day in yearbook class turned into making an entire yearbook over Zoom – harder than it sounds. Hanging out with friends turned into trunk meetups where we would sit in our trunks six feet apart when all we really wanted to do was hug each other. As time went on and senior prom got canceled it felt uncertain as to when this was ever going to end. Then came the news that we were not going to have an in-person graduation.

For some, avoiding the graduation ceremony seemed appealing, but for me I was ultimately disappointed. I had yet to experience a real graduation in my life and it was something I was really looking forward to. However, my school district got creative and out of the 1,000 graduating seniors, if the student opted in, the administration hand-delivered their diploma to their house in a graduation caravan. Although it was not the same as a huge ceremony, it is a unique memory I will cherish forever. 

Now, with college graduation approaching, I truly feel as though I’ve received the entire Concordia experience. From arriving on campus during times when lockdown was still heavily underway, to now walking at graduation during an era when Covid is not on the forefront I believe I made it through a pretty distinct experience that I get to call my own. 

Abby McGue

Every year on March 2, I see my Snapchat memory of a photo of Lysol products and hand sanitizer with my confused caption about my mom preparing to get “hit with the coronavirus.” Just a few weeks later, school was canceled for two weeks. Then prom, senior skip day, the last “cookie chapel,” senior shirt signing day, and graduation were all canceled next. Suddenly, I wasn’t making fun of my mom for buying disinfectant spray but instead crying to her about all of these memories I was bound to miss out on. 

Luckily my small school made an effort to restore some of these memories for us. Instead of attending chapel and having parents hand out cookies afterward, we were offered a drive-through cookie chapel. Students drove themselves through the after-school pick-up line while masked teachers and secretaries handed us pre-wrapped cookies through our windows. Instead of going around school in our white polos and having friends from all grades sign our shirts, seniors went into our gym in groups of five and signed each classmate’s shirt that was laid out on tables. And the big one, graduation. On July 25, 2020, I finally graduated high school, masked up and six feet apart from all of my friends. 

Two weeks later, I was moving into college seven hours from home at CUW. Unfortunately, going to college didn’t mean that COVID-19 went away, it was still very much relevant. My very first college class was on Zoom, and ironically enough, my very last regular class was also on Zoom. Other than still seeing some professors only on my screen, I feel that I am finally getting the COVID-free senior experience I deserve. I missed so many moments four years ago, so I am taking in every second this time around. I am excited to walk across the stage without a mask and get the degree I worked so hard for since the start of the pandemic. 

Ruanda Diaz 

In 2020, I was working at Kate Spade inside of Mayfair Mall. The week before the shutdown in March, the mall became a ghost town. My coworkers and I went from having a line of waiting customers to standing at the store’s entrance counting down the hours until closing time. We knew that closures were happening but we never thought the whole mall would be closed down. On March 17th, it seemed that it would be another long day of no sales. That was until 1 P.M. when all stores were informed that the mall would be closing at 5 P.M. We thought we were just closing for the day but then realized it was until further notice. Hearing the news of places closing caused an eerie feeling within us, it was something that we had never experienced and didn’t know what to expect! 

During this time, I was also finishing my last year at Moraine Park Technical College. My commencement ceremony was set to happen in May, however, due to closures our ceremony was canceled. Instead, I ended up receiving my cap and diploma in the mail which was bittersweet. It was nice to know I had completed an associate’s degree, however not having a ceremony made me feel as if my accomplishment was diminished. 

Even though I had no work or school, the closures due to the pandemic gifted me a lot of time. This time allowed me to focus on myself and the people who I cared about. I spent a lot of time on Facetime and sending messages with friends and family. I felt that the relationships in my life were stronger than ever due to having little to no distractions from work and school. 

In conclusion, the sudden closures and the cancellation of my graduation ceremony brought a mix of emotions. However, all the extra time I had allowed me to strengthen my relationships and focus on my own personal growth. I am excited to be graduating this year and having the opportunity to wear my cap and gown at the commencement ceremony!

Hanah Conger

In 2020, I was a freshman here at CUW. I remember there had been talk of the campus closing, but I never really believed that it would happen. The transition from my first year away from home to being stuck at home was a rough one. Not only did I have to move all of my stuff out of my dorm with very little notice, but I also had to deal with the mental side effects of that. My newfound freedom had suddenly been stripped away and I couldn’t see my friends anymore. 

I also had a hard time with switching to online school. I struggled a lot with completing deadlines and even attending virtual class. I was a great student before COVID, but as soon as I had to complete assignments on my own time, I no longer had the motivation to. I had to do class and homework in the same place- my bed. My 8-year-old brother was also stuck at home. An 8-year old boy stuck at home is a recipe for restlessness. He was rowdy all the time, and I had a hard time concentrating while on Zoom.  

Despite all of these challenges, I was able to adapt. My friends and I began zooming together nearly every night, which are some of the most fun memories we have together. We couldn’t spend time together physically, but that never affected our friendship, even though I was worried that it would- we’re still friends today! My struggles with my classes were also an eye-opening experience- because of these troubles, I gained a better work ethic. I was lucky to have a high school graduation, but now I’m feeling extremely grateful for my college graduation as well. I struggled a lot to get to the stage this weekend, but because of those struggles, I am able to be who I am today. 

Grace Velzke

I was a junior in high school the week of  March 13th, 2020. It was the week we were supposed to leave for our Florida band trip. My principal sat at my lunch table earlier that week ensuring us all that we would leave for the trip as planned. Wednesday at softball practice after school, he went on the loudspeaker announcing an “extended spring break”, telling us to bring anything we would need home with us “just in case”. Later that day, Disney World announced it was closing and Friday March 13th, the world shut down. 

Turns out it was not just an extended spring break. But a permanent change to the rest of my high school career. I missed junior prom, senior year homecoming, senior football games, powder puff, and time with my friends and family. After finishing out my junior year online, I decided I wanted to cherish each day I was able to be in class with my friends my senior year. So, each day in our study hall I would take a picture of my friends and I and save it to my Snapchat memories. I am so grateful for those memories now. Even though my last year and a half of high school looked different than I expected I was still able to make lasting memories and appreciate the opportunities I was given. 

That same attitude of appreciation has followed me into my last semesters at CUW. I have been much more intentional about appreciating the smaller things and doing what I can to make memories while I am here. Although I don’t graduate til December, I plan to make the most of the time I have left. When reflecting on COVID and my last couple semesters at CUW a quote from the movie Ferris Buller’s Day Off comes to mind, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once and awhile, you could miss it.” I plan to use this last semester to enjoy where I am and to reflect on where I’ve come from. 

Want to cheer on these seniors? Find more information about this May’s commencement on CUW’s website:

—Emma Druckmiller, Abby McGue, Ruanda Diaz, Hanah Conger, and Grace Velzke are current or previous Beacon staff members and 2024 Mass Communications graduates.