Decision day looks a little different for AHS seniors during pandemic | AspenTimes.com
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Decision day looks a little different for AHS seniors during pandemic

Decision day is typically a fun affair. In more normal times, high school seniors from across the country would come to class each May 1 adorned in the colors of their future college or university, where they’d share their plans for after graduation.

But as schools remain empty because of the novel coronavirus, decision day for the 2020 graduating class has a much different feel.

“If you would have asked me last fall what I thought senior spring would look like, I would have given you a much different picture,” Aspen High School senior Maxine Mellin said. “It’s been hard. We were always a pretty close class. Last summer and even the fall we’d have tailgates together. We’d always do things on the weekend together. It’s definitely taken a toll.”

Mellin, much like her fellow senior classmates, has been anything but accepting of the situation, however. As the Aspen School District transitioned to online learning during the pandemic, the students found ways to keep some sort of normalcy, albeit virtually.

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This includes for Friday’s decision day, with the seniors teaming up with the Aspen Education Foundation to make sure the students are still able to connect and learn about each other’s future plans.

“There would be a big ice cream party after lunch and a huge class photo outside. It’s fun. It’s a really fun celebration of that class. So they can’t do that,” said AEF executive director Cynthia Chase, who went through the AHS graduation process with her own children.

Chase lauded AHS principal Tharyn Mulberry, who has allowed the seniors to take control of the circumstances.

“He looks at that class and wants them to make those decisions,” she said. “As they talk about graduation or as they talk about what these milestones could look like in this environment, he is really letting that class take the initiative and they are making the most of it. We just want to support them however we can.”

In lieu of celebrating in person on decision day, AEF and some of the students put together a virtual slideshow that will be live on the AEF website and it shows each student and what they plan to do after graduation. Mellin, who played a part in putting together the video, also is the driving force behind a new Instagram account (@aspenseniors2020), which does the same.

It may not be a fair replacement for losing out on the real decision day, but it’s a way to keep the students connected on what is normally a milestone day in their lives.

“I thought having a virtual method of that, a virtual alternative, would be a really fun way to celebrate everyone’s decisions,” Mellin said. “It’s definitely been hard not seeing many of my classmates.”

Mellin is headed to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania in the fall, where she plans to study finance and mathematics on a presidential fellowship. She was lucky as she was able to visit her top college choices in person last summer, a luxury not everyone’s been afforded during the pandemic. Many students make college visits in the month or two leading up to decision day — the final day most colleges and universities expect a commitment from future students — but the coronavirus has made this nearly impossible amid the stay-at-home public health orders in place across the country.

Roughly half of the country’s colleges have extended decision day to at least June 1 this year, if not later, but for the most part many students will likely have to make decisions without actually making an official college visit.

“It is a hard decision. What has been difficult for our seniors is some of them weren’t able to visit their colleges yet and they were waiting to see where they got in to visit the schools. Some of the students have to make decisions based on their own research versus visiting a school,” AHS college counselor Karen Hawkes said. “The students are going online and doing virtual tours of the campuses. The colleges are trying hard to help the students navigate this challenge to help them make their decisions.”

The culmination of this is decision day, where the stress of deciding is supposed to be off the students’ shoulders. It’s supposed to be a day of celebration, not one of continued uncertainty. That’s why simple acts like creating an Instagram account or putting together a short video for the seniors are needed.

“It’s definitely important just to have contact with people that you might not necessarily be talking to otherwise,” said AHS senior Lauren Fox, the student body’s head girl who will study film at Boston University after graduation. “We had an art Google meet and there was no point to it, but it’s just fun to see classmates and people I’m not really in touch with otherwise. So I definitely think it’s good to keep things going and give people something to do and something to look forward to.”

On top of the video, AEF is planning to hand out ice cream to the seniors from noon to 2 p.m. on Friday at their bonfire location in Aspen, across from Paradise Bakery. The idea is to have the students, adorned in their college gear, either drive or ride a bike through to get ice cream while adhering to social-distancing protocols.

It’s just another way to keep some sort of normalcy in difficult times.

“They are resilient in making the most of their situation,” Chase said. “I know with all the senior activities, whether it’s the scholarship ceremony that is coming up where we award scholarships, or what they are thinking for graduation or what they are thinking for their senior prank, they are coming together as a class and brainstorming how can we make the most of this year and these events that we are missing.”

Plans for AHS graduation, tentatively scheduled for May 30, should soon be finalized.

acolbert@aspentimes.com


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