A Sentimental Look Back at Our Senior Year in the midst of a new Corona Reality
Whether it's JB’s prom single Stuck with You or Obama’s sappy Commencement Speech, social media has been flooded with semi-inspirational content for this year's graduating class. The general message being: a heartfelt condolence for the loss of our remaining high school time, and with it, prom and graduation.
The byproduct of these announcements has been the perpetuation of an endless cycle of self-pity, which teenagers seem to have a remarkable ability to collectively partake in. #RIPProm2020 has been one of the many hashtags currently trending on Twitter and perfectly encapsulates the public sentiment that all teenagers have been robbed of the sanctity of their beloved high school experience.
But what value do these celebrations bring to the table? Is prom anything more than a glorified social ritual where teenagers rebelliously teeter on the edge of adulthood through reckless underage drinking and awkward sexual encounters? Moreover, is it an integral part of adolescence or just an artificial formality whose iconic nature has been ingrained by coming-of-age pop culture?
Well, despite the stereotypical Molly Ringwald-esque nature of prom, it still undeniably holds great symbolic importance. Ultimately, prom and graduation are a classic rite of passage for teens, celebrating the end of our pubescence and the start of our supervision-free keg-drinking college years. For many students who have spent their time juggling through part-time jobs and balancing school work, prom and grad were a much needed commemorative ribbon-cutting of the long-anticipated finish line.
Thus the loss of this celebratory cessation of our youth has inevitably produced a lot of resentment among high schoolers. Many feel they’ve been deprived of their final ‘adieu’ to highschool and the priceless memories associated with that iconic cap-throwing moment. But what comes with this reasonable sentiment of anger is the teenage (all-too-familiar) habit of overdramatization.
Is that to say that the worries and frustrations of current students are totally undue?
No. While writing an article criticizing the nuances of Gen-Z might be fun for some to read, it’s frankly not what we need right now.
Nature has thrown an unexpected wrench in our life plans. Our graduating class has suddenly been ousted from our place amongst peers and lost our last chance to make the most of our limited time with friends. And if we were to talk about the financial components of prom: what are we supposed to do with our (wildly overpriced) dresses now? Search for buyers on Kijiji? Moreover, when are we ever going to find a chance to wear four-inch, sparkly heels again, in the face of Canadian winters and workplace dress-codes?
As such, we also have struggled with the void left by the absence of prom and grad and have not been impervious to the frustration produced by this anticlimactic denouement. However, as we both moved to the ‘acceptance’ stage in our grief cycle, we began reflecting on the nature of our high school experiences. What did we learn suffering four years in those halls (that eventually formed into a second home for many of us)? And more importantly, what exactly did we lose with the hasty annulment of our final days?
Looking back, high school definitely served a crucial academic purpose. We wrangled with polynomial functions, explored the wonders (or possibly horrors) of chemistry, and laughed with our friends at corny school plays. Along with all of that was the opportunity to make mistakes in a sheltered environment with minimal consequences. It allowed us to procrastinate our Hamlet essays and (hopefully) learn from our irresponsible caffeine-filled all-nighters.
Coupled with these functions was the added social dimension of it all. High school is filled with sentimental firsts for everyone. Maybe it’s your first date or crush, or perhaps you think the romantic stuff is better left to rom-com heroines and instead recalled the first time you met your closest friends. Adopting that one teacher as a pseudo-mom figure, or having your first emotional breakdown afterschool in the jam-packed school library. Apart from being cornerstones of our blood, sweat, and tears for these past four years, those brick walls carry deeply symbolic meaning.
So then, where exactly does the sentiment for prom and grad fall among the larger high school experience? Well firstly, there’s the expectation that’s been built up since we were children. Hearing about our parents investing in an RESP fund for us, watching high school dramas and imagining our own prom experience—we’ve all worked tirelessly towards that walk across the graduation stage, while bright “educational spotlights” and brief notoriety follow, congratulating us for these commendable efforts.
Therein, lies our problem. We’ve so heavily reinforced this belief that graduation is the final stage, that we now find ourselves unmoored and drifting aimlessly when we are blocked from ascending its steps. But what is the real, concrete value of this ceremony? Typically, the “diplomas” you get at convocation are just rolled up pieces of paper—the real ones are mailed a couple weeks later. So then, what exactly does grad provide us, if nothing tangible?
A sense of closure. Humans are fickle beings, and we hate to leave things unfinished. Furthermore, our transition into adulthood has been prematurely catalyzed, forcing us to take on the overwhelming responsibilities of fixing a broken world on the brink of recession, geopolitical turmoil, and widespread partisan division. The final puzzle piece of our burden-free childhood has just been stolen from us, stomped on, and burnt in an incinerator—all right in front of our very eyes. We watched as each announcement from government officials marked with more certainty the hasty termination of our adolescence. And now we return again to our original point: what should we do with ourselves now? There’s no hope that we’ll be able to return to school, nor is there any indication as to when our social lives will be able to return to normal.
Coming from two girls who spent well above $300 on their prom dresses, we understand that the loss of these final days and symbolic milestones can instill resentment in the hearts and minds of teenagers. As such, while recognizing the enormity of these losses and the annoyance felt by our graduating year, our advice for seniors is to reminisce on your high school experience with an emphasis on the bright times and important moments. Rather than grieving its lost puzzle pieces, think of your senior year as a mosaic, complete with bits of fond memories that may feel patched together and unfinished, but are nonetheless deeply treasured and all-the-more valued.
Look not to the things that we’ve missed in the past, but instead towards the multitudinous opportunities that have been opened in our future. We encourage all high schoolers to disperse that heavy cloud of teen angst (and Axe Spray) and take this chance to try something new. Message that person you’ve been secretly stalking on Instagram, or pick up that spatula and learn to cook without poisoning your family. FaceTime your BFFs and reflect on silly memories. Alongside these youthful indulgences, it is with this final message that we leave you.
Adulthood is intimidating, especially in the desolate atmosphere of 2020. However, this instability should not be an instigator of terror, but rather a trigger for inspiration. For better or for worse, it’s fallen to our generation to fix the virus-ridden, TikTok-dominated reality and mould it into a better future.
-- Written by Ameena Naqvi and Briana Tang Ameena Naqvi and Briana Tang are incoming first years at Western University, with a passion for classical literature, journalism, and social activism.