What it’s like to graduate Aspen High School during the coronavirus pandemic
For the Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen High School’s class of 2020 will celebrate commencement with a ceremony at Buttermilk Ski Area on Saturday, May 29 at 10 a.m. aspenk12.netEditor's note: The Friday parade was canceled, and graduation now starts at 10 a.m. Saturday.
I walked out of the red doors of Aspen High School one final time March 11, with no inclination that it would ultimately be the last. I then ditched my last class period, my last lunch in the commons, and my last all-school assembly to go skiing with some friends. If I had known that those extra few turns would cost me my concluding moments of high school, I would have turned back.
The following day, my final soccer season was suspended, and the next, our spring break was extended to begin a week early. While skiing, my friends and I discussed our concerns about losing an extra week of practice, the preposterous idea of missing our Senior Prom, and chuckled over the notion of going two weeks without seeing one another.
The prearranged five-day weekend due to parent/teacher conferences felt like an eternity. I remember anticipating an incredibly lengthy two weeks with no schoolwork, sports, or friends. Five days quickly transformed into 10 weeks and now I find myself questioning where the time has gone. I celebrated my 18th birthday sitting in a park with some friends — 6 feet apart, of course — and my soccer “Senior Night” from the Aspen Recreation Center parking lot as my teammates paraded by, and soon will graduate from the comfort of my own car. And yet, this entirely unfortunate situation still does not feel like reality.
From a very young age, I’ve fantasized — through watching countless films and older family members and friends — my elusive senior spring. Finally on the other side of all the hard work: college applications, demanding IB classes and standardized testing, this conclusive quarter of high school was supposed to be a time for my graduating class to unite together and commemorate the end of an era. Last year I watched as my friends in the class of 2019 celebrated, basking in their moment. I celebrated along with them before returning home to finish studying for finals. That was their time; I knew I would have mine. The coronavirus has stolen that time: our moment.
On March 12, I woke up to some exciting texts from my teammates. The AHS girls’ varsity soccer team was ranked fourth in the state for CHSAA’s preseason rankings. I felt proud, reassured and honored. Our years of training, dedication, long drives to Denver for games, and to Glenwood Springs for club practice, summers full of travel and tournaments, and deep playoff runs had finally paid off. A few hours later, CHSSA announced it would be suspending the spring sports season indefinitely. As a freshman, I recall my first Senior Night (held during the final home game of a season). My fellow freshman teammate, Payton Curley, and I tried to imagine what our final game would feel like. At that moment, we couldn’t help but shed a few tears. The idea of this night — still so foreign to and far away from us — was unquestionably heartbreaking. However, at our Senior Rose Ceremony — held in a parking lot with all of us in masks at a safe 6-foot distance, and absolutely no soccer playing — we didn’t shed a single tear. I believe I had no more tears left to shed over my nonexistent final season. I was now so disconnected from this part of my life: the intensity of a close, overtime game, the elation of scoring the game-winning goal, and even the disappointment of losing a game we could’ve won. Looking around at my teammates’ smiling faces, I was nothing but grateful to have been part of such an amazing, loving, and loyal family (#haylesyeah #weskiin’).
Another frustration the pandemic presented to me was in the form of online, remote learning. Among many misfortunes, my AP calculus BC exam (these were still held online, at home, in 45-minute time slots) only proved to be further irritating. In the final moments of the exam during which I was submitting photos of my work, a dump truck cut a wire in Carbondale, causing a valley-wide internet outage. All but one of my classmates were unable to submit their work and we now face the annoyance of having to retake the exam the Monday following graduation.
At the start of remote learning, my peers and I found very little motivation for and purpose in our final weeks of school. These weeks would have been spent reviewing and preparing for the daunting IB exams which were now canceled (thank heavens). My empathetic teachers quickly caught on to our dismay, and classes began to shift focus. Though lessons continued, teachers began to open up our Google Meets to be a place for discussion and social interaction. I missed talking with my peers every day, diverting my teachers into long, off-topic tangents, and all the social aspects of school. I never thought I’d miss school, but quarantine instantly taught me how much my life at AHS extended beyond my mere education.
As I reflect on my 13 years in the Aspen School District and a lifetime of friendships created, some as early as my time at Wildwood, I have little regrets. Of course, the virus has made me wish I had appreciated these moments a little more — if only I had sat down at lunch and conversed with my friends more often, woken up a little earlier on powder days, or looked back as I walked out those red doors.
However, I believe this remorse strikes all graduating seniors, regardless of a pandemic. I have always been told that high school goes by too fast, but I had no perception of just how quickly these moments would flee. The first day of senior year felt especially strange. I was now at the top of the food chain, so close — yet still so far — from adulthood, graduation and saying goodbye. I had no idea how soon these transformations would be occurring. It’s still difficult to imagine that I am no longer a freshman and that in a few short months I will be moving across the country to start an entirely new life for myself, but I know — thanks to AHS and coronavirus — I will be more than well-equipped for whatever life decides to throw at me next.
In the grand scheme of things, one lost quarter of high school is a minuscule inconvenience — let’s be real, much worse things are occurring worldwide. When talking with my friends living in Aspen’s sister city Queenstown, New Zealand, it is inspiring yet frustrating to learn that they have already returned to school and normal life. This stark contrast from the U.S. highlights our government’s fundamentally flawed and corrupt systems. The class of 2020 and our generation has always demonstrated our activism and eagerness to stand up for a brighter future through our devotion to protests, school walkouts and self-advocacy. We must continue to defend our beliefs and create a better tomorrow for ourselves and the many generations to follow. If nothing else, our senior spring and graduation will undoubtedly be memorable and unparalleled and 2020 will have shown just how quickly our world can be flipped upside down, so we might as well enjoy the journey.
Maeve McGuire is a senior at Aspen High School and will be attending the University of Chicago to study molecular engineering next year.
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