“It has been a unique and very difficult year for students,” admits Alison McLeod, the adjustment counselor at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham. “However, I would describe the graduating senior class of 2021 as being resilient, determined, hardworking, flexible, and adaptable.”
Lynn Fleischer, the senior class adviser at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich, agrees: “I am so impressed with the grace and maturity our seniors have shown through this unusual year. I know there was much disappointment from missing a year of sports, homecoming, dances, senior project, senior banquet, and so on.”
The loss of these important experiences in a young person’s life is significant. “We mourned for the seniors last year, and none of us really thought it was going to last this long,” says Nauset High ceramics teacher Amy Kandall. Nauset English teacher Airami Bentz observed over the course of this school year that “many of the seniors feel they lost a crucial period of time in their high school careers when they were on the cusp of moving forward. And that time can never be replaced.”
NRHS Principal Chris Ellsasser believes that it is important to acknowledge and honor these feelings, which some will experience more strongly than others. “As resilient as the students have been and as much as they have learned, you just don’t get lost time back,” Ellsasser says. “I think it’s going to take quite a while for people to process what’s happened, what they’ve been through, what they’ve endured. I often speak of this coming year as a period of healing and of extending grace, as much as we can.”
Students and staff from both public high schools agree, however, that the most challenging aspect of the past school year was not missing landmark senior events, but missing each other. With many students being remote learners for the entire school year, and others attending school only on a part-time, “hybrid” basis, opportunities for in-person learning and socializing have been few and far between.
“I think we all became disconnected as a class,” says Nauset senior Lucy Crosen. “As the year comes to a close and I’m looking at all the faces I grew around, I feel the need to join my classmates once again before we finally go our separate ways.”
“For some students,” Bentz says, “this loss of community dealt them a blow with which they are still grappling.” Kandall agrees: “We’ve been spending so much energy trying to keep everybody six feet apart. Now we’re going to have to spend a lot of energy figuring out how to put them together again.”
Laura Cronin, a history teacher at Cape Cod Tech, believes that the pandemic also intensified the complex emotions that come simply from being a senior. “The kids still struggled through the understandable anxiety felt when you are transitioning from student to adulthood, but they had the added health concerns,” she says.
While students at Nauset were either remote or hybrid learners for most of the school year, the seniors at Cape Tech were able to meet in person for their technical programs — often referred to as “shops.”
“They certainly realize that it was not a typical senior year, but they were well aware that many schools were in-person only one or two days a week, and they were happy and grateful to be in school as much as they were,” says Tracy McEnroe, a cosmetology instructor and president of the Cape Tech Association.
During the occasional brief periods when even the tech students had to be fully remote, says technical studies director Annie Dolan-Niles, the shop teachers came up with innovative approaches. In carpentry shop, for example, “the teachers set up a live session of themselves shingling a roof and broadcast that to their students.”
At Nauset, Bentz feels that having to adapt to difficult changes has been both a challenge and a silver lining for many teachers. “For me, this year has been a roller coaster that has tested me but also taught me to dig deep and embrace the challenges,” she says. “The pandemic is the first time in my 26 years as an educator that an external force affected my relationship with my students. Teachers have learned to become extremely flexible, ready to pivot on a moment’s notice, and to be innovative. We worked hard to meet our students’ needs.”
The availability of vaccines allowed for much-needed last-minute opportunities to reconnect in April and May, and to say goodbye. “Things are looking up for all of us,” says Bentz, “and I am ecstatic that the Class of 2021 can celebrate their hard-earned accomplishments together.”
Just in the last month of school, Nauset held its annual senior walk to the beach, usually held in the fall; a senior field day; a celebratory ride around the school in decorated cars; a “family senior night at the movies”; an outdoor prom at Truro Vineyards; and a graduation ceremony on the turf field.
Most of these events were organized and driven by the kids themselves, supported by their advisers. “The kids are role models for how to take care of themselves and each other,” Ellsasser says. “It’s a testimony to their maturity. They have shown flexibility and a willingness to do whatever it takes to come together.”
At the Tech, says Fleischer, “we have for the past month been working to create some type of traditional end-of-the-year normality for the kids.” The school held graduation on Saturday, June 12 in person, outside on school grounds. “We are working on the final touches for the senior prom, which will also be held outside,” she says. “The senior officers have done an amazing job organizing the details on such short notice.”
With these opportunities to gather safely has come a profound gratitude for the simple fact of being together. “I never thought kids would want to go to school so badly,” says NRHS Assistant Principal Sean Fleming.
“I learned that I took school for granted,” senior Anthony Lovati Brown agrees.
If you ask them, this year’s seniors will tell you the many ways they feel they have grown through adversity. “I think this past year has made me a better and stronger person, because I’ve learned a lot about myself, as well as others,” says Nauset senior Simone Rein Bosworth. “It will be incredible to tell my children stories about schooling during a pandemic.”
“Before the pandemic,” says senior Rhys Krieger-DeWitt, “I felt like I always needed to be with friends, I always needed to have plans and be doing something, but I learned that I really like being by myself.”
“I’ve learned that, as people, we forget that we’re living as a society and that our actions can have consequences,” says Lucy Crosen. “I learned the importance of mindfulness and how it’s better to educate yourself before you can educate others. I’m proud of my growth this past year.”