Class of 2021 Describes High School Graduation and Spending Senior Year in a Pandemic

Despite the difficulties of finishing high school in the midst of the pandemic, students like Daniela France, Michelle Tejada and Sayed Anwar graduated last month. They spoke to Bushwick Daily about their year, graduation and what they’re doing next.

Daniela France’s graduation ceremony, like so many others, featured masks, spaced-out seating and a limited number of invitations per student. After over a year of online learning and COVID-19 regulations, she received her diploma on June 23 from the Math, Engineering, and Science Charter Academy (MESA Charter High School). 

The graduation ceremony was split in two to limit crowds, which prevented friends from seeing one another walk across the stage. However, it was a better deal than last year, when the seniors received their diplomas, caps and gowns but couldn’t have a graduation ceremony. To rectify this, the school held a ceremony this year for the Class of 2020, for which Daniela says a lot of people returned.

Exterior of MESA Charter High School.
MESA Charter High School had a graduation ceremony for seniors on June 23.

Other schools also split up their graduation ceremonies. Michelle Tejada, who graduated on June 17 from Uncommon Charter High School, says they had three separate ceremonies to limit the number of people at each.

Michelle lives in Bushwick and used to attend MESA Charter High School like Daniela, before she transferred to Uncommon Charter High School her junior year. 

While she’s grateful they had a ceremony, albeit a short one, Michelle wishes they had had “normal senior activities like prom or a senior trip.” She says a few kids tried to host DIY proms, but it was nothing like the school-hosted event.

Daniela’s class was lucky enough to have a prom, at a nice rooftop venue here in Bushwick. Beyond needing proof of vaccinations, it was a fairly normal dance.

She says her school, MESA Charter, made a big effort to give them senior activities. For instance, they paid for the seniors to go to Six Flags a few weeks ago.

Daniela noted that for MESA’s Class of 2021, events like the Six Flags trip and a yearbook signing were the only opportunity students got to see each other. Their entire senior year was remote, with classes conducted on Zoom.

Some schools, like Uncommon Charter High School, started offering hybrid classes last fall. After the first quarter, Michelle was able to go to school in person, though seniors who had signed up for hybrid learning could also choose to take classes from home.

Graduation photo with four young women, including Michelle Tejada, surrounded by balloons.
Michelle Tejada (second from left) graduated from Uncommon Charter High on June 17 and is attending St. John’s University in Queens this fall.

Having to attend Zoom classes from her childhood bedroom on the days she didn’t go in made it difficult to stay motivated, especially as senior year wrapped up. But there was nowhere else for her to take them. At home with her sisters also taking classes, other parts of the house were often too loud, and outside was almost always too hot.

As such, Michelle says, she preferred to go in when she could, “rather than stay in [her] room where [she] had been for a good nine or ten months.”

Some students saw benefits to online learning. For instance, Sayed Anwar, who graduated from the Brooklyn School for Social Justice on June 25, told Bushwick Daily that not having to commute saved him two hours a day, allowing him to focus more on classes and extracurricular activities. 

Sayed Anwar at the podium at his high school graduation.
Sayed Anwar graduated from the Brooklyn School for Social Justice on June 25.

His school didn’t host normal senior activities, but they did have an in-person graduation which Sayed enjoyed. Like MESA, the Brooklyn School for Social Justice only let seniors bring two guests to the graduation ceremony.

The young adults (and now high school diploma recipients) are looking forward to the rest of summer and what they hope to be a normal fall, when all three plan to begin college. 

Daniela is currently working at a marketing agency in the city and getting ready to leave for college in late August, which will be her first time away from home for such an extended period. She’ll be attending Babson College and hopes to study finance or marketing.

Michelle is working at a pharmacy this summer and is attending St. John’s University in Queens next fall. Sayed plans to go to college for a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering.

Top image image by Paige Cromley.

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