The Graduates: Seven Grade 12 students discuss their final school year during the pandemic

·4 min read
Grade 12 graduates Will Ash, Elda Britu, Mateo Gramaglia, Breton Taylor, Ellie Bates, Siraaj Shah and Jorja Powers spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener about their last school year during the pandemic. (Rachel Maclean/CBC - image credit)
Grade 12 graduates Will Ash, Elda Britu, Mateo Gramaglia, Breton Taylor, Ellie Bates, Siraaj Shah and Jorja Powers spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener about their last school year during the pandemic. (Rachel Maclean/CBC - image credit)

It's the year students always think about nearly from the start: the very last one, when more than a decade of schooling culminates in the walk across the stage in a cap and gown.

It represents the end of an era, and alongside the friends who have been there through it all: the classes, the studying, the exams, the parties, the events.

But for Grade 12 students in a pandemic year that has disrupted work, social lives, relationships and, of course, school, it hasn't looked like that.

Students bounced from in-person learning with their friends to taking their classes online, and at home, alone.

Households without multiple laptops or high-speed Internet left students scrambling for resources just to keep up.

Meanwhile, routine bright spots like plays, sports, clubs and events were cancelled.

And as the world shuttered, job opportunities and post-secondary experiences were suddenly thrown into question.

Students did their best to adapt to all that was in flux, and a cross-section from southern Alberta spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener about how COVID-19 impacted their mental health, studies and feelings about the future.

The participants included William Ash from the Lethbridge Collegiate Institute in Lethbridge; Jorja Powers from Bow Valley High School in Cochrane; Ellie Bates from Bow Valley High School in Cochrane; Elda Britu from Father Lacombe High School in Calgary; Breton Taylor from Discovering Choices in Calgary; Mateo Gramaglia from St. Anne's School in Calgary; and Siraaj Shah from John G. Diefenbaker High School in Calgary.

The following quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Mental Health

Elda Britu: It's very hard to bounce back from that sense of dread you've been feeling for an entire year. I feel like, over time, there's always a chance of recovery. Unless we begin that slow trek back to normal, it's very difficult to say whether we'll permanently bounce back from where we are right now.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost

Breton Taylor: In Grade 10, I was a super outgoing person. I loved to be around people, and now I'm panicked to go see anyone. I'm anxious to see people now because I've been away from them for so long, and I haven't seen big crowds or been around my friends. It's really hard, and unexpected for us, at this developing time in our lives.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost

Will Ash: I'm from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, and having my faith is actually a lot of help because my testimony of my church has strengthened, because of those things that we were taught by our prophets to do. And it's just been one thing that's kind of stayed the same throughout COVID, so it's been one thing that I've been able to have.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost

Siraaj Shah: Some of them come from households that are a little bit toxic. And so leaving that household is kind of a necessity for them just to keep sane, if you will. And so for a lot of teens, socializing and flouting the restrictions is kind of the lesser evil out of a far greater evil.

  • LISTEN | The students talk about their mental health and how they're holding up:

Studies

Jorja: My grades haven't suffered. It's just I've had to work four times harder to keep them where I want them to be. Especially in math last semester, I had to put in double the work to be able to understand the concepts.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost

Elda: If you don't have Wi-Fi, or you don't have a laptop or your phone isn't good enough for video chatting and stuff like that, there's a lot of less-privileged kids who kind of miss out on their education.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost

Will: When we first started at-home learning, we had one computer with me and my two younger brothers, so that was kind of rough to begin with, just because me and my brother both had class at the same time, and we both somehow had to use one computer.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost
  • LISTEN | Find out how the see-saw of in-person and online learning has affected their studies:

The Future

Jorja: I would be considering taking a gap year to travel, but I can't travel. So I've been accepted into the U of C. I know first year is when you meet your study groups and your new friends that have the same interests as you, and so I'm really, really hoping that I don't have all my classes online.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost

Will: I was wanting to leave Canada because I wanted to see new things. And I also wanted to speak a new language — that was one of the things I was really hoping for. The fact that I'm called to Toronto [as a Mormon] — I was bummed about it in the moment. It takes away a lot from the experience, I think, that I was looking forward to. But I think that, really, we're told we're called to serve. We're not called to place.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost

Mateo: It was looking like I would go to a big university on a full scholarship, full ride, which would have been great. But obviously the opportunity hasn't come. So I'm attending SAIT next year, and they have a junior football team. It's definitely a good opportunity still, and lots kids don't get that chance.

Graphic by Hannah Kost
Graphic by Hannah Kost
  • LISTEN | How the pandemic has shifted the outlook for Grade 12 students:

With files from Elizabeth Withey, Paul Karchut and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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