Meredith C. Carroll: Celebrating the Class of 2020’s 2020 vision
The coming days and weeks will provide ample time for the Class of 2020 to ruminate on what’s being taken from them, although it’s March 11 to which Aspen High School assistant principal Sarah Strassburger keeps looking back. That was the final date of school before a two-day student break for parent-teacher conferences, which also ended up being when the school district, city, state and the rest of the country shut down indefinitely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The seniors never had a real last day, no face-to-face goodbyes with their teachers and classmates,” Strassburger said. “It’s been a slow burn of painful information. Not only have they lost all these rites of passage but they won’t be physically together as a group again.”
Indeed, not knowing that an unremarkable late-winter Wednesday would be the curtain call to their in-person high school experience has been a perceived sting among students. AHS Head Girl Lauren Fox could have imagined missing her close friends, although what has taken her by surprise is how acutely she’s felt the absence of all her classmates.
“Our school is super tight knit. Most of us have been here since kindergarten and not seeing everyone at lunch and in the halls every day is weird,” Fox said. “But because of this everyone is staying in touch a lot more. It’s actually really cool how everyone is coming together, including people who weren’t really close before.”
If there’s been a silver lining to missing out on the senior prank, prom, ditch day, rent-a-senior day, graduation, and Project Graduation, it seems to be an unexpected intimacy, even in the absence of typical physical gatherings. Seniors have found some solace in connecting online via their class Facebook page, and also by skinning up area mountains and at other times, gathering in the empty Aspen Middle School lot with their cars parked in a big circle as everyone sits on their trunks to connect in person, albeit socially distanced.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking. It hurts a little. It just does not feel good,” AHS’s Owen Cesark said of the vanishing of his senior spring semester. “I watched my older brother graduate a couple of years ago and participate in all the Aspen traditions and I just keep thinking how fun the end of school should have been. We’ve waited four years for these three months.”
Senior Molly Miller is similarly dismayed by what’s happening, even if she has a different perspective on the isolation because her dad is a cancer survivor whose immune system requires added safeguarding. Nonetheless, like Cesark, she’s been looking forward to the spring semester of her senior year “for the past 12 years.” Miller also had an older sister graduate in Aspen before her and got to know “firsthand what it was supposed to look like.”
“I’m most upset about missing graduation, although our Head Boy and Girl have really made an effort for everyone to feel connected and special,” Miller said. “Meeting in the middle school parking lot has been much better than seeing everyone over Zoom. We just have to do what we need to do to protect the people we love.”
Plans are underway for an alternative graduation ceremony, notwithstanding Strassburger’s concession that whatever ends up happening likely won’t measure up to walking across the stage at the Benedict Music Tent next month.
“The hard part is grieving what you wanted,” Strassburger said. “If you’re trying to replicate something you had your heart set on and go for the lesser version, it’s like buying the knockoff: You’ll know it isn’t the same. I’m just super proud of how the kids have been creative in figuring out how to celebrate each other.”
AHS senior Maxine Mellin remembers the buzz during her freshman year when the gold sheets were hung up in the high school hallway in April and May exalting each senior’s post-graduation intentions. She recently took inspiration from some of her future classmates at Bucknell University, where she plans to attend as a presidential fellow in the fall, and created an account for Aspen High School seniors to laud their apres-Aspen decisions (Instagram.com/AspenSeniors2020).
“The whole class felt bad for ourselves but then took a step back,” Mellin said. “It was hard to believe what was happening at first. But now that most of us are settled on our next moves and that stress is behind us, we’re on more of a kick to communicate with each other.
“It keeps hitting me how much is being missed,” she said. “I do believe this experience will end up giving our class a kind of push to do even more once this is all over to make up for what has been lost. For right now, it’s OK to and right to mourn. It’s OK to be conscious of our community’s suffering as well as sad for what’s happening to us.”
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.