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Grad 2021 Perspectives: High School

In the second and final piece of CBC Toronto's two-part Grad Week series, we share the experiences and perspectives of four Toronto students who are completing high school during the pandemic.

In part two of our Grad Week series, four High School grads share their Covid graduation experience

(CBC Toronto)

In our first week of our #Grad2021Perspectives series, we shared the voices of four graduating college and university students. In our final week of this two part series, we connect with four Toronto students who are wrapping up their last year of high school. With a bright future to look forward to, they share their experiences, and perspectives on life as a high school senior during COVID-19, and also reveal what their post-secondary plans are. 

Erin D., Toronto, ON, High School Senior, Class of 2021

Erin is graduating from a Toronto high school, and will study chemical engineering in the fall (CBC Toronto)

Your graduating year of high school is probably very different than you may have imagined. Could you explain what you imagined it would be, versus what it really was like?

Since the start of high school, I imagined my graduating year of high school to be very social and productive. I knew that Grade 12 was the year when students were working very hard to get high marks for post-secondary education. I had made close friends in Grade 11, and we discussed how we would go study at cafes and libraries together once we hit Grade 12. We planned on going out more often to make more memories while focusing on our studies as a team. Once the pandemic started, all those plans went out the door. I spent the majority of my Grade 12 school year sitting in front of my laptop listening to lessons or completing school work. I would only go out for short walks, and to buy necessities. As for my close friends, we have been keeping in touch online but it's not as easy since we're all busy. Even as I'm busy, I've managed to become lazier and less motivated. Constantly being at home gives me the urge to simply relax rather than focus on my work.

Would you like to share one achievement or accomplishment that you are proud of this year? This can be academic or non-academic.

Sure. I would say that this year I am most proud of being accepted into all of the post-secondary programs I applied for. I applied to Engineering, Environmental Studies, and Language programs at three universities. I felt very proud when I found out that I got accepted into all of my programs because it showed me how much potential I have to take different paths for my future. 

How is your school celebrating graduation and prom this year, and do you have any personal plans to add to these celebrations that you would like to share?

My school is having a virtual graduation this year. Students and parents are going to be given a link to attend a virtual meeting where presentations will run as a graduation. It's quite unfortunate for the class of 2021 as most of us would have wanted our graduation to be in-person. In addition to the virtual graduation, students will be able to go to school for one day to pick up graduation gift bags, which will include a free graduation cap and our yearbook. As for prom, the only thing the school offered was a free prom t-shirt. I didn't take the offer. However, I acknowledge the effort. At the end of June and during the summer, I plan to meet up with my close friends to catch up with them and to celebrate the end of high school. 

Can you share what your plans are for this fall and how your senior year in high school informed this decision?

This fall, I plan to attend university and study Chemical Engineering. I really hope that the classes will be in-person because I want to experience real university life! Throughout my senior year, my school's guidance counselors made sure to post updates online about post-secondary education, researching resources, application deadlines, and scholarships. I am very thankful for that as they have helped me keep up with my transition to post-secondary education. 

Anisha L. - Mississauga, ON, High School Senior, Class of 2021

Anisha is a 2021 Schulich Leader, and will pursue a degree in STEM at the University of Toronto in the fall. (CBC Toronto)

Your graduating year of high school is probably very different than you may have imagined. Could you explain what you imagined it would be, versus what it really was like?

Throughout high school, I built a pretty solid idea of what my senior year would look like - pep rallies, the spring festival, prom, and a momentous graduation ceremony to conclude the year. Ever since sitting through the graduation ceremonies of my two older siblings, I have been thrilled to experience it all firsthand. In reality, my graduating year has been rather trivial. I missed out on in-person events and I am planning to graduate in front of my laptop screen. It is a little heartbreaking to know I won't get the opportunity to walk across a stage and look into a sea of blue caps and gowns. However, I do feel lucky to have made it this far and to be able to celebrate with my family. 

Would you like to share one achievement or accomplishment that you are proud of this year? This can be academic or non-academic

I am proud of making it through a year of virtual schooling and prioritizing my mental health. It has been tough battling weekly tests, virtual communications, and a lot of self-taught material. I see personal growth in the ways I stick to a sleep schedule, go outside everyday, and dedicate time to have fun. This year, I discovered new study habits and motivations that I feel will be assets to my future studies.

How is your school celebrating graduation and prom this year, and do you have any personal plans to add to these celebrations that you would like to share?

My school completely skipped over prom this year, which I wasn't too bummed about because I've never had much of a liking for large parties and dance floors. As for graduation, my school is hosting a virtual graduation ceremony towards the end of June. I wish we could have an outdoor celebration, but I also understand their reasons to keep it online. Either way, I am super excited to decorate my grad cap, take photos in my gown and cap, and deliver my salutatorian address.

Can you share what your plans are for this fall and how your senior year in high school informed this decision?

In the fall, I will be attending the University of Toronto and (hopefully) living in residence at the St. George campus. I will be studying computer science and pursuing a Bachelor of Science. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be entering my bachelor degree as a 2021 Schulich Leader at UofT, which translates to an $80,000 scholarship over four years of study in STEM. This scholarship is one of the greatest blessings I have received this year and it relieves much of my financial stress. Of course, I owe many thanks for this to the teachers, guidance counsellors, friends, and family who have supported and inspired me throughout high school. Although my senior year did not at all go as planned, I am happy with where I ended up. Here's to an exciting future!

Andrew V., - Toronto, ON, High School Senior, Class of 2021

Andrew will be this year’s valedictorian at his school. He will take his passion for sports and science to the University of Waterloo, where he will study kinesiology (CBC Toronto)

Your graduating year of high school is probably very different than you may have imagined. Could you explain what you imagined it would be, versus what it really was like?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have never envisioned that my last year of high school would look like what it did. I had been heavily involved in school sports my first two and a half years of high school and hoped to finish my high school sporting experience by creating some amazing memories. In the years prior, my teammates and I had discussed what it would be like to finally be the oldest on sports teams and be able to lead our school teams. In grade 11, we were so excited and looking forward to having a great sporting year in our senior year and lifting school spirits. I also imagined having the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to all of my teachers, coaches, teammates, and fellow students. I imagined senior pranks, a last run at school intramurals, prom, social events, and of course, graduation. In reality, none of this was able to happen. We've bounced back and forth between in person and online school throughout this year and neither solution comes close to what I expected. We've had no sports, no intramurals, no social events, no prom, and an online graduation. When we were in person in the fall, we had to wear masks, sit apart from each other and leave the school property after class (no hanging around catching up).  It was just a half day of school learning, (every other day) with little in person social time.

Would you like to share one achievement or accomplishment that you are proud of this year? This can be academic or non-academic

When schools were first shut down, I started working out with weights and haven't stopped ever since. I've always been active with sports, but with all the focus on sports practices and cardio, I never got a chance to spend quality time in the gym and gain muscle. Ever since the first lockdown, I've been able to focus on a healthy diet with lots of protein, lifting weights, and personal fitness in general. Since March 2020, I've been able to gain 20 lbs (hopefully mostly muscle!) and become stronger in almost every way. I'm incredibly proud of this achievement as I've never been able to do it before and it's typically difficult for me to gain muscle with my body type (tall & skinny). Throughout this year, I've been able to use working out as an escape as I have enough equipment to get by. I have a nice setup in my basement and since I'm always in my house, going downstairs to my "gym" to workout almost feels like I'm leaving the house and going somewhere else. I've found that working out and having an exercise routine is very helpful and leads to success and positive work habits in many other areas of my life. 

How is your school celebrating graduation and prom this year, and do you have any personal plans to add to these celebrations that you would like to share?

This year, my school is not hosting a prom or in person graduation. My school used the money that would have gone into organizing a prom and put it towards buying prom shirts for all graduates. In terms of graduation, it will be hosted on an online platform. A day after grad, students will have a chance to pick up grad bags in person including items such as a cap, diploma, yearbook and "goodies", and will also be able to take informal pictures if they wish. It's not amazing, but at least it's something. It's hard to imagine that I've been in school for about 14 years and my final goodbye will be online. On the bright side, I've been nominated valedictorian for this year's graduating class at my school. I hope to create a speech that my fellow students can relate to and enjoy, despite graduation being online. I hope that I'm able to bring back memories of all of our high school years and allow students to move on from high school with a positive message.

Can you share what your plans are for this fall and how your senior year in high school informed this decision?

My plans for this upcoming fall are to study Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo in the co-op program and live on campus in residence. Coming to this decision was quite difficult for me as I was unable to get a true taste of what the university campuses were like. I was forced to narrow my decision down through brief online tours, zoom info sessions and walking around campuses with my family, but not being allowed inside buildings. This was a difficult process as I had to make a huge decision about where and what I would study. I felt that I didn't have the same resources available to me that other students from previous years had when making this decision (no university fair, no campus open houses, no residence tours, etc.). Taking an intro to kinesiology course in high school gave me a desire to go into kinesiology as it seemed to mix sports and science; two things in which I am very interested in. Even then, it was still a slow and difficult process, having many zoom meetings with guidance, and having to do all of my research online. 

Sydney M. - Toronto, ON, High School Senior, Class of 2021

Inspired by the kindness of her high school teachers, Sydney has chosen to pursue a degree in education from Queens University starting this fall. She aspires to become a teacher one day. (CBC Toronto)

Your graduating year of high school is probably very different than you may have imagined. Could you explain what you imagined it would be, versus what it really was like?

I imagined it to be spectacular. I hoped for a prom, graduation, and a normal senior year. I so badly wanted to go prom dress shopping with my friends and get ready with them for school dances. Unfortunately, the class of 2021 did not receive these wishes. Aside from the unfamiliarity, I still feel accomplished and honoured to be accepting my diploma within these troubling times. It is even more impressive that the class of 2021 successfully completed high school under these conditions. COVID-19 has taken a lot from us, but it also has shown me and I'm sure many others the appreciative moments we take for granted. And for that, I am grateful. 

Would you like to share one achievement or accomplishment that you are proud of this year? This can be academic or non-academic

I am so fortunate and proud of myself to have gotten some scholarships that will put towards my university fees! I am also grateful for successfully completing the IB program without losing all my hair.

How is your school celebrating graduation and prom this year, and do you have any personal plans to add to these celebrations that you would like to share?

My school plans to celebrate by doing a pre-recorded virtual commencement. There will be a slideshow of the graduates, comparing us through all the years. Baby photos will make a cute debut too. We also received free graduation hoodies as our gift! Other than that, I will go for a nice dinner with my family and friends if COVID-19 allows. 

Can you share what your plans are for this fall and how your senior year in high school informed this decision?

In September of 2021, I plan to go to Queen's University for the concurrent education program! My high school showed me how kind teachers go a long way. I have grown up surrounded by inspiring teachers who were crucial in guiding me to where I am today. I am thankful for their teaching methods and hope to repay that favour to future students. My desire to become a teacher stemmed from their kindness, helpfulness, and devoted time to genuinely help students become better versions of themselves.

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