Seniors Reflect on Unexpected Last Year of High School

Seniors+Alex+Wang%2C+Luke+Yuen+and+Claire+Ehrig+greet+each+other+on+the+quad+during+the+Blue+hybrid+learning+cohort%27s+first+week+back+on+campus.+Photo+courtesy+of+Cyrus+Lowe.

Cyrus Lowe

Seniors Alex Wang, Luke Yuen and Claire Ehrig greet each other on the quad during the Blue hybrid learning cohort’s first week back on campus. Photo courtesy of Cyrus Lowe.

Danielle McNair, Staff Writer

After spending only two and a half years on the Menlo campus, many members of the senior class feared their final year would end virtually. Though many seniors wanted to return to campus for at least part of their senior year, for months it was undecided whether this would be safe. However, by fall of 2020, the school decided it was going to be able to bring students back in a hybrid model.  

Menlo first transitioned to a hybrid model Oct. 26, 2020, allowing students to come to campus at 25% capacity. The school divided all students into four groups: Gold A, Gold B, Blue A and Blue B. While students had the option to continue staying home, this opportunity allowed students to return to campus for the first time since March 2020. 

After holiday break ended on Jan. 4, 2021, the school instilled a two-week quarantine period that allowed students to get tested before returning to campus at 50% capacity on Jan. 19. The school is currently divided into gold and blue cohorts, attending classes in-person one week and at home the other. 

Due to this grouping, the senior class has been divided in half, finishing their four high school years split between the classroom and their home. Although many seniors would like to be together with the entire student body, COVID-19 protocols do not permit Menlo to do so. “As a senior, being in hybrid learning is kind of a bummer as I would way rather be fully in person,” senior Chris Cook said. “However, I am lucky to be at school and partially in-person as there are thousands of other seniors who have to have their senior year entirely online.”

Senior Peter Gray appreciates the ability to go on campus during hybrid learning. “The school is definitely making the best of a bad situation. During this time, it is really important to connect with each other, so getting to see people has been nice,” Gray said.

Senior Jeremy Yun also touched on the strength he has witnessed from the Menlo community during this time. “One of my favorite things about Menlo is the family — I’ve formed relationships with great teachers and met friends I’ll have for a lifetime. It’s been tough not to see everyone five days a week, but I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to be together this spring,” Yun said. 

The senior retreat, which usually takes place during the fall, did not happen this year because of COVID-19 restrictions. This time  usually allows the senior class to connect on a deeper level and often fosters new friendships. 

Senior Lindsey Ball wishes she could participate in a senior retreat. “I was looking forward to the senior retreat. It is pretty unique to seniors and something that I know defined a lot of my friends’ senior years. I was looking forward to bonding with people I have not interacted with a lot,” Ball said.

“I believe a key characteristic of senior year is that everyone becomes friends. It does not matter what social group you are in — everyone comes together to have an inclusive, fun last year. Now, we are more physically separated than ever, and that’s one of the hardest parts,” senior Izzy Hinshaw said.

Senior Langley Ward was also looking forward to the senior retreat and getting to bond with the senior class. “I’ve always felt like our grade wasn’t as close with one another like the classes prior, so I thought that this trip might have been a great opportunity to actually get along with one another,” Ward said.

Gray also looked forward to making new friends this year. “With the pandemic, I only get to see my really close close friends. I feel like there is very little opportunity to make new ones,” Gray said. 

Not being on the quad during tutorials, passing periods and after school has also reduced the amount of interaction between Menlo students, an aspect of school life that occurs naturally in person. 

“I miss the brief interactions I would have on the quad with students from other grades,” Cook said. “Most of all, I miss the energy of being around others and the atmosphere that came with being at school.”

Gray shared similar feelings about the short interactions he loved experiencing on the quad. “I miss the little interactions on the quad where you just say hi or ask about their next class. It allowed me to talk to people I would not normally [talk to],” Gray said. 

“There’s something about walking with that person you always walk to math with that makes my day so much better or looking forward to seeing my friends on the quad while I’m walking from one of my classes,” Ball said.

Although the senior class understands the current situation and enjoys being able to spend part of their senior year together, there are many senior traditions the class of 2021 is sad to miss out on. For many seniors, it is hard to look past those losses. 

“I miss the social events such as homecoming and semi-formal,” Yun said. 

Hinshaw will also miss school significant events and dances. “It makes me so sad to think that I won’t ever have a real prom,” she said.

“It’s also things like not being able to play in the [annual] powderpuff game that is a major tradition for seniors,” Ball said. “Or not being able to reveal our homecoming theme as our float passes by the crowd [while] we all dance some ridiculous dance.”

For senior athletes, uncertainty around their seasons is devastating after three years of looking forward to becoming captain, having a senior night or playing in an emotional final home game. 

“I miss playing basketball and hanging out with the team. Going to practice after school was always the highlight of my day,” Cook said. “I miss the feeling of playing in front of a crowd and the energy the school brought to each game.”

“I’ve spent three years working really hard in anticipation of my senior season, so it is hard to have that taken away from me,” Hinshaw said. 

“I really looked forward to having a tennis and lacrosse senior night, and it does not look like I will have either,” Ball said.  

With classes on Zoom every other week, motivation among many is at an all time low. Most seniors agree that the hardest part about being in hybrid learning as a second semester senior is the lack of motivation to do work and the struggle to alternate between in-person and online classes. “For me, the hardest part is going back to distance learning after the weeks of in-person [classes]. It can be extremely lonely at home all day, and finding motivation to be engaged in classes is really hard,” senior Mack Ford said.

For seniors like Cook and Ashley Scafetta, college acceptances have also increased the struggle to say motivated in school. “I was accepted to a few colleges, and now I can feel my motivation slipping away,” Cook said. 

“I think it’s hard to be motivated or focused as a second semester senior because I already know where I’m going to college, and I don’t feel like I need to do the work,” Scafetta said. 

Though the seniors continue to attend classes and do their work, the motivation to complete these tasks is at a bare minimum for many students. Hybrid learning has decreased second semester seniors’ drive and focus; none of them predicted this for their senior year.

“This is definitely not how I expected these four years to end — [it] seems a little lackluster from what I imagined it would be like,” Ward said.