Kelly Salas, senior at Proviso East, misses participating in marching band now that school is being held remotely. | Photo provided

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COVID-19 has affected practically everything for students, from the way they interact (social media is important) to the way they attend classes (remotely). Kids are resilient, it’s often said, and there’s no doubt that when things slowly go back to whatever our “new normal” is, they’ll adapt just fine.

But high school seniors will miss some important milestones taken for granted, but highly anticipated and celebrated, by students during normal times.

Prom. A big graduation ceremony often followed by a party. Finishing out the last few months of school with the people you’ve been together with for the past four years. Seeing your friends every day before you all go off and do new and different things.

Sure, they’ll have a cool story to tell. “Back when I was a senior, we didn’t even get to go to prom!” they can tell their friends, their families, their children. It’s a pandemic version of “Back in our day, we walked 10 miles uphill in the snow to school!”

But for now, it’s sad.

On April 7, a letter from the Proviso Township High School District went out to students of the 2020 graduating class.

“We regret to inform you that all senior activities scheduled for the month of May have been cancelled, with the exception of graduation,” read the letter, which went on to state that alternatives to in-person graduation are being investigated.

“This is a difficult time for all of us, and certainly not the end to your senior year any of us had hoped. But it is necessary to ensure your health and safety,” said the letter. “We are in this together. Let’s be creative and put the most positive, safe, experiences we can put in place, under these circumstances.”

Alexis Gomez, a senior at Proviso East High School, says he was planning on attending all the senior activities.

“It’s a loss,” he said. “It’s a memory that I’ll never have.” For all the seniors, said Gomez, the cancelation of events is difficult. “This was supposed to be our last time together before leaving high school and beginning independent chapters of our lives.”

The sudden end to in-person schooling might be particularly difficult for Gomez because he was involved in so many activities at East. He was on the Student Leadership Team, managed the girls’ volleyball program, and volunteered extensively.

“You name it, I probably did it,” said Gomez with a laugh.

He’s still working as a student coordinator for the mentoring program, designed to assist senior students who are struggling or are behind in their studies.

“I still talk with the students I’m helping remotely,” said Gomez. “But a lot of the mentees in the program feel a loss of motivation right now with the way things are. Some of them feel like there’s no hope. But we tell them to keep pushing forward.”

Gomez’ own dreams have changed slightly due to the COVID-19 crisis. His heart was set on going to University of San Francisco, but the pandemic shifted his finances – and focus. He’d been counting on a scholarship, but with the date for funding and scholarship notification extended, he’s decided to stay closer to home, where he’ll attend DePaul University as an American Studies major. Eventually, he said, he wants to go into politics.

But despite the need to change his plans, Gomez is able to see the silver lining. “I try to see the bright side of everything,” he said. “I’ll have a chance to live in the city [of Chicago] and experience that.”

Although he expects to live on campus as a freshman, he mentioned that some schools are already talking about starting the 2020-2021 school year remotely.

“I hope that doesn’t happen,” said Gomez. “The class of 2020 has already been deprived of finishing their senior year. I hope we’re not deprived of a traditional freshman year too,” he said.

Gomez has a maturity to him, the ability to see the situation as bigger than himself.

“I’m OK with change,” he said. “But I feel for the people who don’t have a happy or safe place to go during sheltering at home. There are people out there with problems at home. People at risk. Those are the people I worry about.”

Kelly Salas, another Proviso East senior, says she’s sad, like Gomez, about missing out on time with her friends. She said prom wasn’t the biggest concern for her, but just spending time with other students and participating in marching band feel like big losses right now.

“Since I was a freshman, I looked forward to senior year,” said Salas. “I looked forward to graduating with my friends and ending the year together. We were already planning activities. I’m really sad about it.”

Distance learning is going well, said Salas, but she misses seeing her teachers. Talking to them via camera just isn’t the same.

And she misses marching band, which she’s been in for three years as a piccolo player.

“I just feel like, sadly, a lot has been taken away from us,” said Salas.

But, like Gomez, she doesn’t have a give-up attitude. She’s looking forward to volunteering more at an animal shelter – she plans to pursue veterinary studies in college – and maybe doing some traveling when social distancing is lifted and it’s safe.

And she, too, expressed hope for the future.

“We’ll keep our heads up,” said Salas. “We can do this together.”

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