In search of the pearl: Inside students’ struggles during COVID-19

“The world is your oyster!” You know, I never really liked that old adage that many people use when an exciting, yet unknown situation is on the horizon. An oyster? Really? Is there not a better animal that could have been chosen to describe the excitement that your senior year of high school would bring other than a bivalve, bottom feeder? For many teenagers in high school, life revolves around the long-awaited moment of epic proportions known as senior year, the year they’ve seemingly anticipated for most of their lives. They know the momentous occasions they’ve hoped for and looked forward to with great expectations are just within a semester’s grasp.

Throughout the years, many high school seniors have had to put those hopes and dreams on hold not due to any fault of their own but rather because the hard hand of reality taps (or sometimes slaps) them faster than they would have liked. Beginning their senior year in 1941, students found themselves dealing with seeing their country entering into World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many found themselves no longer intrepid students but instead infant soldiers falling into the ranks and fighting for their country. My senior year of high school at ECI was brought to a screeching halt when the tragic events of September 11, 2001 unfolded right before our very eyes on the television in our classroom. This past year has been no different for the Class of 2021. As many of us have lived through the global pandemic and witnessed the toll it has taken on our world and people right here in our own community, I wanted to know how some of our most precious commodities, our high school seniors, were dealing with this rollercoaster known as COVID-19. I recently sat down and talked to two of my former students, Chase Whitehead and Destiny Akridge, who were a part of my first class at Twin City Elementary, as well as recent ECI graduate Evan Durden. I wanted to get their perspective of how their lives have changed throughout this most challenging year that they never saw coming.

Sitting in desks six feet apart in a classroom preoccupied in the old building of ECI surrounded by walls filled with memories of days gone by where social distancing was definitely unheard of, Whitehead and Akridge began to share their thoughts on COVID-19.

“You kind of dream of how it’s going to be going into your senior year. You have this idea of what’s going to happen and when all of this came along, none of it happened,” Akridge began. She explained that when the pandemic first reared its ugly head, basketball season had just wrapped up. She’s grateful the season was able to be completed with no interruptions. However, looking back, she didn’t know the field trip she had just gone on would be the last trip for her, and it could very well be the last trip she makes as a student of ECI. Life in quarantine brought many hardships for her and fellow student Whitehead. They watched as what would be the end of their junior year slip quietly through their grasp. Spring sports brought to a halt, new prom dresses hung in closets, tuxedo deposits paid, no field trips, no after school activities—nothing but time at home wishing for the old normal to return.

Recent graduate Durden replied that the quarantine became a “family project for the Durden household.” He also shared his frustrations over the uncertainty of graduation last year. When the time finally arrived during the summer, he felt happy but couldn’t conceal the disappointment in knowing that some of his dearest friends would not be there to join them. He explained that one of those friends had just joined the service while another had gone on to Kansas for college so there had been a small damper put on the celebration. As if the thought of graduation didn’t already ring with the deafening tones of separation, graduates found themselves spaced six feet apart on the football field with strict orders to maintain that distance. However, as the ceremony drew to a close, Evan found himself grabbing his buddy, Jarell Jordan, and wrapping his arms around him for a “big bear hug.”

“The time seemed right,” replied Durden. “This was the time and place for me to hug my buddy.”

In wrapping up the interview with Akridge and White and asking how they felt about their senior year fight to bring some light to cover the shadow of COVID-19, Whitehead put it plainly. “It sucks,” he laughed. The three of us agreed that we are “huggers,” so knowing that they had to be careful in greeting their pals at school or anyone anywhere for that matter had been very difficult. They both agreed they’re very glad they made the decision a long time ago to get involved with as many extracurricular activities that school had to offer. This has been their outlet for dealing with the frustration of the pandemic. The physical separation has been very challenging, but they have reassurance in knowing that those friendships have remained.

Despite the hurdles that this past year has given Whitehead and Akridge, these two teenagers were given special recognition and voted Mr. and Miss ECI as well as homecoming king and queen. These titles bring with them the admiration of their fellow peers as well as the respect and trust of the rest of the ECI student body, faculty, and staff.

In closing, I would like to say to Chase, Destiny, Evan, and the Classes of 2020 and 2021, the world is your oyster. Although it may seem as if you are wading through the muck and the mire of COVID-19 to get to it, you’ll find it. You may fall down. You may scrape your knees trying, but you’ll get your oyster. When you do, remember that the same tenacity you showed during this most unusual, anxious time is what you will need to continue. The pearl of success will be there. Pry it open and take it. It’s there waiting just for you...

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