Graduates

High school seniors graduated into a world no one could prepare them for.

Their transition into adulthood began clouded in uncertainty amidst a spreading pandemic. Much of what is to come remains in question, but they recognize the only way to move forward: adapt and persevere.

These are the memories, takeaways, and hopes of 20 seniors from McKinney High School’s class of 2020.

Dear McKinney ISD Community, 

Samar

Samar and her friends were spending their spring break in Colorado when they received an email from Collin College — where McKinney High School students take dual credit courses — notifying students that the break would be extended for another week due to the emergence of COVID-19.

Samar

 We were like, ‘Okay wow, this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states?’ We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school.”

“We were like, ‘Okay wow, this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states?’ We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school.”

Maxx left his backpack leaning on the side of his bed, prepared for whenever the next school day would be.

Maxx

The return date continued to get delayed as Stay at Home orders extended, and Maxx’s backpack remained unmoved, still holding the books, journals, and snacks he had to get him through a typical day.

The return date continued to get delayed as stay-at-home orders extended, and Maxx’s backpack remained unmoved still holding the books, journals, and snacks he had to get him through a typical day.

Maxx

 In the beginning I thought it was just going to be a week or two… But then after the next couple of days, it just kept growing and growing. So I was like, ‘Dang. I might actually be out of school for the final year of my high school career.’ ”

Lucas

March 6, 2020, marked the last day of in-person school. Lucas and his Computer Science Club mates were preparing to leave for Houston that Friday to compete in Codewars, a high school computer programming competition.

We were all in the room after school, ready to load the bus, when our teacher saw the email that they’d actually cancelled the event this year. We had all these supplies and stuff that we were ready to load into the bus, and then we just…didn’t.”

“It’s kind of odd thinking that one day before spring break would be the last day you get to see those people, and we didn’t really even know it. We never said any kind of goodbyes or wished each other luck. We said bye for that day, and then it was over.”

Lucas

March 6, 2020, marked the last day of in-person school. Lucas and his Computer Science Club mates were preparing to leave for Houston that Friday to compete in Codewars, a high school computer programming competition.

“We’re like, Okay wow this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states? We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school… It was a mix of excitement but also fear at the same time, using the excitement to mask that fear.”

Elham

Elham

 When we were in school, we were just like go go go. After that it was nothing. It went from all of that to nothing. I would always be in my bed, watching something, and I was just like, is this how it’s going to be? Am I just not ever going to do anything? That was the most unmotivating time I feel like I’ve ever had.”

Abby

 I was really excited for graduation and being able to walk across the stage. It’s something you see as a little kid. I worked really hard in high school, and I was really excited to finally be appreciated for all my hard work. That moment where you just throw the cap in the air…it just seems so nice [to have] a final hurrah for everything that’s happened, and we didn’t get that. I just don’t think you can try to recreate that sense in a new way.”

Abby

“I was really excited for graduation and being able to walk across the stage, it’s something you see as a little kid. I worked really hard in high school and I was really excited to finally be appreciated for all my hard work. That moment where you just throw the cap in the air… It just seems so nice [to have] a final hurrah for everything that’s happened and we just didn’t get that. I just don’t think you can try to recreate that sense in a new way.”

Kelly

In the middle of a pandemic, losing prom and graduation can look small next to the onslaught of COVID-19 upon the world.

Kelly

 I mean people are dying from coronavirus, and here I am like, ‘Oh I can’t celebrate my 18th birthday.’ I didn’t want to feel bad about it because of what everyone else is going through… like I’m putting my problem over someone else’s.”

“It’s hard to find [out] if what you’re feeling is right.”

Jake

“I have a journal that I write in. It’s kind of a reminder of just how much the world has changed. I looked back at some of the earlier pages that I started at the beginning of the year, and it baffled me a little bit, how different the world is right now.”

“The goals that I had for myself have fundamentally changed just because of the situation.”

“We were like, Okay wow this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states? We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school… It was a mix of excitement but also fear at the same time, using the excitement to mask that fear.”

Jake

 It all accumulated so quickly. It wasn’t one moment that was like, oh my god, this virus is real. It was like, this is the most insane situation that I will probably ever see in my life. The fact that my girlfriend got coronavirus, I lost my job, my dad lost his job, and the learning situation completely changed.

It wasn’t one moment so much as it was everything all at once.”

Everything at once. Their class — dubbed the “Class of Corona” by some — switched to virtual classrooms, drove through their graduation, and grew all too familiar with the word cancelled. On top of what came with a senior year cut short, they had to manage the tolls this pandemic took on their personal lives and the effects it had on the world.

Isha

Isha’s dad is a doctor at Texoma Medical Center and lives within a cycle of working one week and quarantining in the study of their home the next. Their family operates  within this “new normal,” where  meals are brought to the door and there are no face to face visits – other than through the study window. This is how Isha’s father spends some degree of quality time with her nephew, who was staying with them and just turned one.

Isha

 My dad loves that kid, like it’s insane how much. It hurts, you know, when people who are on the front lines of all this are giving up happiness.”

Alan

Alan’s family felt the forces of COVID-19 in multiple forms. He and his mother both lost their jobs in a floundering economy that led to the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. Normally, they don’t have problems paying the bills, but this time around they had to call their utility providers and landlord, among others, and ask for an extra month of payment deferment. 

Alan realized the scope of the virus after hearing from his family in Mexico City, who were quarantined and facing the same fears he saw in his own state. His uncle, who already had several health issues, passed away after contracting COVID-19.

Alan

You wake up to the fact that you could lose a family member or friends… I just had to mature in a way that I couldn’t think as a kid anymore. I had to think as an adult now.”

Edom

The growing spread of COVID-19 poses greater risks for some more than others. Edom’s mother has an auto-immune disease, so even as restrictions loosened in Texas, Edom and her family needed to remain distanced.

In late May the country’s attention shifted from COVID-19 to the death of George Floyd, shining a light on the deep-rooted issue of police brutality against Black Americans. Edom, who founded and led the Black Student Union at MHS, wanted to get involved but could not fulfill the in-person role because of the risk of getting her mother sick. Instead, she and her siblings fundraised, signed petitions, and spoke out on social media to do everything they could behind the screen.

Edom

 I can’t really go out as much as I see my peers go out. Public areas are still more dangerous. I’m more scared to come home with something. It could really affect us differently than another family.”

Danny

 Something that I think about that makes me feel a little bit better is that it’s not just me that’s going through this. It’s every senior across the globe that’s having to experience this whole coronavirus thing. We’re not alone.”

A pandemic brings separation, but Danny finds solidarity in the shared challenges his classmates face. Even when apart, the students find strength in the bonds that were created in the halls, classrooms, and bleachers of McKinney High School — memories that feel like they just happened yesterday.

“It’s not even like missing prom and missing all these events that seniors do because obviously I miss that and everyone misses that. But I feel like for me, it’s like there’s an environment…

It’s a feeling that I don’t really miss until I don’t have it.”

Danny

“I can’t really go out as much as I see my peers go out. Public areas are still more dangerous. I’m more scared to come home with something. It could really affect us differently than another family.”

A pandemic brings separation, but Danny finds solidarity in the shared challenges his classmates face. Even when apart, the students find strength in the bonds that were created in the halls, classrooms, and bleachers of McKinney High School — memories that feel like they just happened yesterday.

“I can’t really go out as much as I see my peers go out. Public areas are still more dangerous. I’m more scared to come home with something. It could really affect us differently than another family.”

Sydney

Sydney

 You grow up with your parents your whole life, and you kind of believe in the same thing that they believe in. You do the same things that they do. High school was when I realized that I have my own thoughts, my own beliefs.”

“I can’t speak for everyone, obviously, but I think a lot of people start to figure out who they are in high school.”

Mariana

Mariana discovered a passion for photography by joining the high school yearbook. Documenting the daily student life brought her to people and places she likely wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

I fell in love with it, pretty much. My high school years went by a lot better because of yearbook and participating and being involved. I feel like I accomplished a lot through it, and every single memory that I made involved my camera somehow.”

Mariana

Mariana discovered a passion for photography by joining the high school yearbook. Documenting the daily student life brought her to people and places she likely wouldn’t have come across otherwise.  

“We’re like, Okay wow this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states? We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school… It was a mix of excitement but also fear at the same time, using the excitement to mask that fear.”

Jose

Jose and his family moved to the USA five years ago and faced the difficulties of adapting to a new country. While attending MHS, he kick-started the English Learner’s Club so students new to the USA had a space where they felt welcomed and accepted.

That helped me expose myself to different stuff and open up to different people. I was really able to develop my communication skills giving presentations during our club meetings, and I was also able to learn a lot about school tradition because, like a lot of students, I wasn’t familiar with a lot of school traditions. I attended my first football game as part of this club, and my first beat the drum.”

Jose

Jose and his family moved to the USA five years ago and faced the difficulties of adapting to a new country. While attending MHS, he kick-started the English Learner’s Club so students new to the USA had a space where they felt welcomed and accepted.

“We’re like, Okay wow this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states? We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school… It was a mix of excitement but also fear at the same time, using the excitement to mask that fear.”

Trinh

 Entering high school I had always been an introvert, and I thought I would always be an introvert.

Trinh’s mask she used in the first musical she participated in, Phantom of the Opera.

“It was my junior year when I participated in my first musical, Phantom of the Opera. It was such a quick and such a sudden decision… I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’ And then I got in as part of the cast. That was my breakthrough: that I can be whatever. I can do whatever.”

Trinh

“We’re like, Okay wow this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states? We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school… It was a mix of excitement but also fear at the same time, using the excitement to mask that fear.”

Trinh holds the mask she used in the first musical she participated in, Phantom of the Opera.

“…that was my breakthrough, that I can be whatever, I can do whatever.”

Humans thrive on interaction and intimacy and relations with one another, and the fact that that’s being deprived or limited to just people in their household is really where it takes a toll on everyone.”

Sara

I hear people asking, why’d it have to happen to our class. Why couldn’t it be next year? Why couldn’t it be our freshman year? But why not this year?”

“Why not us?”

Sara

“We’re like, Okay wow this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states? We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school… It was a mix of excitement but also fear at the same time, using the excitement to mask that fear.”

Maggie

 My mom ‘intervention-ed me’… and she was basically like, ‘Come on, get up. Do something. The world’s gonna go on. Your life will go on. This is sad, but you gotta keep going.’ ”

“Getting back into action and putting myself into something was definitely what I needed. It’s just life you know…things happen.”

Maggie

“We’re like, Okay wow this is actually a really serious thing. Everything’s going to be different. Are they going to close airports? Are they going to close down states? We just had no idea, and we were kind of scared but at the same time we were kind of laughing about it, happy at the fact that we didn’t have to go back to school… It was a mix of excitement but also fear at the same time, using the excitement to mask that fear.”

Three uninterrupted high school years and 125 in-person days as a senior helped build a class that continues to move forward despite difficult circumstances. “WAWG WAWN” — a phrase that started as a playful pass-along in the halls — turned into t-shirts, impassioned chants, and eventually a mantra that would help them get through a senior year they could have never imagined.

Brock

Brock

Talking to my friends has gotten me through mostly. They’re telling me how to keep on going, I’m telling them to keep on going. We [are] all just right there together, trying to push through it all together.”

Auldynn

Auldynn

 We’re just looking onwards now onto the next war, the next step in life. It hasn’t been easy, and that hard work that we’ve all put in these past four years, we can’t fully close it out the way we’d want to. We just have to redeem what we lost anyways, come back in the next four years, and take back what we got taken from us.”

“My time at MHS is over. Now it’s time for me to leave a bigger footprint in college.”

Sam

Sam

 No matter how long something lasts there’s always another side to the coin. This is certainly something really unexpected, but it’s definitely not something that can’t be overcome.”

Note: Audio and quotes have been edited for clarity

Many thanks to the 20 ~heroes~ who graciously gave their time to “Ally’s older sister”. Your tenacity inspires me and countless others.

Created by: Shelby Tauber

Intro video editor: Ally Tauber, another 2020 grad

Copy editing: Micaela Ross

Thanks to Pu Ying Huang, Sam Ortega, and Anna Davies

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