- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2020

Prom. Yearbook signings. Graduation parties. Commencement.

Tarik Darwiesh says he was looking forward to leading his fellow seniors at Annandale High School in those and other year-end milestones before the coronavirus forced them apart.

“An entire semester of memories, laughs and talks were taken away from us,” said Tarik, 17.

The Annandale High School senior class president said he is looking for smaller ways for his classmates to mark the end of this chapter in their lives and the start of the next.

Members of the Annandale class of 2020 share their disappointment with other high school seniors around the region and across the country, whose last year of secondary education has been cut short to stem the spread of the sometimes deadly respiratory disease.

Some have opted to drop any sort of commemoration and just focus on the future. Some have used their cars for “drive-by” celebrations. Others have planned virtual get-togethers via teleconferencing apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts.

Some celebrities are lending a hand. Oprah Winfrey will livestream a virtual commencement event on Facebook and Instagram for high school and college seniors that will feature Awkwafina, Jennifer Garner, Lil Nas X, Simone Biles, Miley Cyrus and others. The “#Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020” event will be livestreamed on Facebook Watch at 2 p.m. EDT on May 15.

Tarik said he has been in contact with members of the Fairfax County School Board and officials with the Virginia Department of Health to find out how and when Annandale’s seniors can engage in some of their alternative plans, including the school musical “Sister Act.” He said they blocked out the musical before school ended and posted videos online so students could practice their lines and be ready to pick up where they left off.

Tarik is informally surveying his classmates about a prom in the school gym in July in the event that the second date they scheduled, May 30, is canceled. He also is planning one last scrimmage for senior athletes this summer.

“We are trying to cement the fact that senior year isn’t over, just the in-person school year is,” he said.

For Yakirah Clay, senior year might not be over, but it’s mostly in her rearview mirror.

The senior class president at DuVal High School in Lanham is juggling about 30 hours of work a week at Chick-fil-A, an online course at Prince George’s Community College and four classes at DuVal, all while mourning the loss of those final moments of high school.

“I am [involved with] a lot of different activities [at school], and since I enjoy keeping myself busy, it’s really getting to my mind. I only have sitting in my house and then going to work,” said Yakirah, 17. “Just not being able to say that I got to walk across the stage is heart-wrenching, not only to me but to my family.”

She said her job helps her stay busy and put food on the table in her home. Both of her parents lost their jobs and had to file for unemployment insurance benefits.

Going to work is scary, Yakirah said, because she has to come in close contact with people and her ZIP code has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland.

What’s more, Yakira and a lot of other seniors are trying to decide which college or university to attend without ever visiting the campuses. By the end of last week, she had to decide between Towson University and Norfolk State University, which she did not get a chance to visit before the pandemic.

Lyla Kim, a senior at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, hadn’t visited any of the colleges that accepted her application. She attended virtual tours, watched YouTube videos of professors and participated in question-and-answer sessions on Zoom before deciding to go to the University of San Diego.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking. I hope that it’s what I expect,” said Miss Kim, 18. “I am hoping that my idea of what it’s going to be isn’t too far off.”

Although she was nervous about making her decision, she said she has felt ready for a while to move on from high school and embark on her next journey.

“I am definitely ready to meet new people and try new things,” Miss Kim said. “I feel like a lot of where I live, I do things more for other people. I like sports, but I play more for my family. I feel like being more independent, and I can grow more out there where I am alone.”

A fellow Quince Orchard senior, Brenna Pagley, said she was excited at first about having time off from school. But after two weeks, it started to sink in that she probably wouldn’t be going back.

Her mother and another parent made signs for families and community members to place on their lawns to show support for the class of 2020.

Miss Pagley, 18, and Miss Kim said they heard rumors about a Quince Orchard graduation ceremony this summer on the football field instead of the scheduled ceremony at the end of May at DAR Constitution Hall in the District of Columbia. Miss Kim expressed excitement about the rumored change because the ceremony would resemble that of “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” she said.

“Our school is doing a really good job to try and make us feel honored, but it will never equate to being able to see my friends every day,” Miss Pagley said.

Angelique Bautista said she and her friends FaceTime one another almost daily and do separate activities to try to re-create the environment of their college preparatory magnet school, School Without Walls, in the District.

Because it is a nontraditional school, Miss Bautista said, she was looking forward to conventional events such as prom and a graduation ceremony.

“[The pandemic] is taking away a piece of what the traditional senior-year high school and story should look like,” said Miss Bautista, 18.

However, she said she is grateful that the senior project presentation has been canceled because she doesn’t like public speaking.

Miss Bautista said she was stressed about choosing a college to attend. She has to decide between Carleton College and Colby College, neither of which she had visited.

She said she is looking at Google Maps to get a feel for the campuses and surrounding towns. She has joined Snapchat, Facebook and WhatsApp group chats with other incoming freshmen and watched informational videos the colleges have posted.

But none of that replaces that “gut feeling” you get from walking around a campus for the first time, Miss Bautista said.

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