What I Learned During the Pandemic

17 students, kindergarten through high school, on their schools, their teachers, their families and their country

Over the past year, millions of students found themselves in uncharted territory. Many were forced, practically overnight, to adjust to a new reality, one in which the adults — parents, teachers, administrators, all of us — struggled to figure out what to do.

Today, many of those students remain in virtual learning, and there is much uncertainty about when that might change. The data suggest that getting students back to the classroom needs to be an urgent priority, especially for Black and Hispanic students, and students from low-income backgrounds.

Recently, we interviewed students from across the country about their educational experiences, and their lives, during the pandemic. Some of our questions were about school, but others were about what students have learned more broadly — about themselves, their families, their teachers and their country. The students we spoke to have struggled with virtual learning or socially distanced classrooms, but they’ve also learned to adapt — in some cases, better than the adults. And parents: As much as they’re driving you nuts, you’re making them crazy, too.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Joseph Powell, 6, kindergarten

Full-time in-person at Wood Elementary, Tempe, Ariz.

Joseph Powell on his first day of school this academic year.
Joseph Powell on his first day of school this academic year.
Joseph plays at a gymnasium. (Photos courtesy of Jonathan and Stephanie Powell)
Joseph plays at a gymnasium. (Photos courtesy of Jonathan and Stephanie Powell)

LEFT: Joseph Powell on his first day of school this academic year. RIGHT: Joseph plays at a gymnasium. (Photos courtesy of Jonathan and Stephanie Powell)

What do you know about the coronavirus?

That we can’t go anywhere fun.

Do you stay home, or are you able to go to school normally?

I’m able to go to school pretty normally.

What’s your favorite thing about school?

My favorite thing about school is doing math.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a dad and a teacher. I look up to my dad, and I look up to my teacher.

Why do you look up to them?

Because they love me.

[Joseph’s dad asks]: Does it bother you wearing a mask all day at school?

Uh, kind of. Look at my mask! It’s “Star Wars.”

That is so cool! Where did you get that mask?

My nana and dada made it.

If you’ve got to wear one all day, it better be a really cool one. Do you want to ask me any questions?

My favorite animal is wolves.

Why do you like wolves?

Because we are the wolves. [Dad: That’s our school mascot.] That’s our school mascot.

Vivaan Pai, 7, first grade

Full-time virtual at Bay Meadows Elementary, Orlando

Vivaan Pai’s first day of school in August 2020.
Vivaan Pai’s first day of school in August 2020.
Vivaan’s remote learning setup. (Photos courtesy of the family)
Vivaan’s remote learning setup. (Photos courtesy of the family)

LEFT: Vivaan Pai’s first day of school in August 2020. RIGHT: Vivaan’s remote learning setup. (Photos courtesy of the family)

Can you tell me about your school?

You can go to the cafeteria and buy stuff from it. Like, you can go into the kitchen and get chocolate milk and uh ... I forgot, because it’s been a long time. In coronavirus, I’ve forgotten all this stuff.

What can you tell me about the virus?

It’s really dangerous. Like for some people, they’ve died. My mom and dad told me that. I hear it on the news sometimes, too.

Do you prefer in-person learning or virtual?

I prefer going in person, but the reason I don’t go to school is because wearing a mask, it’s hard to do for six hours.

Is there anything that you feel you missed out on, being out of school for the last year?

My tooth, it was wiggling one day when I was at home. It came out. I was in kindergarten and my teacher had a chart of how many people lost their teeth. I wish I was in school so I could tell her.

Allyson Rodriguez, 8, second grade

Full-time virtual at James Elementary, Kansas City, Mo.

Allyson Rodriguez loves her little space where she does homework.
Allyson Rodriguez loves her little space where she does homework.
Allyson with a roller coaster she made for her Girl Scout troop using recycled materials. She named it Daisy Rollercoaster after her troop. (Photos by Maria Yepez)
Allyson with a roller coaster she made for her Girl Scout troop using recycled materials. She named it Daisy Rollercoaster after her troop. (Photos by Maria Yepez)

LEFT: Allyson Rodriguez loves her little space where she does homework. RIGHT: Allyson with a roller coaster she made for her Girl Scout troop using recycled materials. She named it Daisy Rollercoaster after her troop. (Photos by Maria Yepez)

Do you prefer learning in person or at home?

I like learning from home. But I still miss my friends.

Tell me why you like learning at home better.

I feel much more safe. I don’t want to get sick from covid-19. I think it’s really, really dangerous for kids.

Do you know anyone who has gotten sick from it?

My grandma, but she survived.

What do you like about being at home?

I don’t have to wait for my parents to come pick me up, and I don’t have to miss them.

How do you feel about going back to school in person?

Well, for now, I want to stay home until covid-19 is, like, totally gone. I want to go back to school when they make a vaccine for kids, because I think it’s not really fair that they have a vaccine for adults but not for kids.

Do you have any questions for me?

I asked my mom if the president is going to see this.

Maybe. Is there anything you want to tell him?

What I want to tell him is that he’s really good. He’s very nice. And you know about the people that, like, don’t have papers? I liked when he wrote the law, and he changed it.

And my mom also told me about when there is a family trying to get, like, let’s say from Mexico to the United States, to Missouri. If one of the guards catches them, my mom told me that if they had kids, they would take them away from [their parents] and they will put them in cages. And [the guards] would say to the people that they feed them, that they’ve done really good. But the kids say they’ve done really bad. I want to tell the president that he’s made much better decisions than the other president.

Billie Null, 8, second grade

Full-time virtual at Takoma Park Elementary, Takoma Park, Md.

Billie Null’s first day of school in 2020.
Billie Null’s first day of school in 2020.
Billie and her brother, Henry, participate in a virtual yoga session. (Photos by Taryn Null)
Billie and her brother, Henry, participate in a virtual yoga session. (Photos by Taryn Null)

LEFT: Billie Null’s first day of school in 2020. RIGHT: Billie and her brother, Henry, participate in a virtual yoga session. (Photos by Taryn Null)

How has coronavirus changed the way you attend school?

I’ve been doing a pod with my best friend, and that’s been really fun. My parents set it up, and they hired a college student every day to watch us. I really prefer in-person school, but, I mean, it could be worse. I do have a pod. Otherwise, I’d be really lonely.

What have you learned about yourself over the last year?

I’ve learned that I really like skateboarding. [My dad] got me a skateboard, and he actually built me a ramp in the backyard so I can skate on that.

What have you learned about your family?

Well, one of the things I’ve learned is that I can get very angry with them, because I’m with them, like, maybe, I don’t know, 20 hours a day. [Laughs.] But I’ve also learned that my dad really likes getting us hot chocolate.

How do you feel about going back to in-person school?

I think I’m doing really good in school, but I think for kids my age, it is really important for us to be able to interact with kids. And I think the sooner, the better. But if we go back to school and we’re all on computers, just doing Zoom learning anyways with the kids at home, I don’t think it’s worth it. Of course, some parents have to send their kids to school because they may have in-person jobs. But my mom works from home and I think what we’re doing is working out great.

Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a child therapist, actually. It’s something that not a lot of kids my age really think about. But I’m having trouble being at home so much that I want to help kids.

Billie and her pod buddy, Eve Lawson, on “Dress Like Your Favorite Book Character Day” during virtual learning. (Katie Lawson)
Billie and her pod buddy, Eve Lawson, on “Dress Like Your Favorite Book Character Day” during virtual learning. (Katie Lawson)

Graysen Lopez, 8, third grade

Full-time virtual at Astor K-8, Portland, Ore.

Graysen Lopez on his first day of school in August 2019.
Graysen Lopez on his first day of school in August 2019.
Graysen in September 2020. (Photos by Brie Kelley)
Graysen in September 2020. (Photos by Brie Kelley)

LEFT: Graysen Lopez on his first day of school in August 2019. RIGHT: Graysen in September 2020. (Photos by Brie Kelley)

What’s the hardest thing about learning virtually?

There are a lot of glitches. Some people don’t have that good of a computer. Some people don’t have computers at all. So schools have to, like, get computers and give them to the kids. And first of all, I think that it’s cool that they are doing that. Second of all, people have tech issues, like sometimes [the teacher] gets kicked off the meeting and then everyone just goes crazy, like: “The teacher left! What do we do?” Two or three minutes later, they all scream, “She’s finally back!” So there’s a lot more chaos.

Is there anything you missed getting to do in person last year?

The talent show, definitely. Because we still got to do a talent show, but it was on something called Flipgrid, and we couldn’t go onstage. I did hula-hooping. I did it to a song, and my little brother — it was a while ago, so he wasn’t a year yet — but he just had his little butt shaking in the background, just wiggling.

Are there any advantages to learning virtually?

I have ADHD, and sometimes I’m like, oh, I just need to do something. I can do that now and then go back on screen and get back to task. It’s very helpful. When our class calls are over, I can dance. I don’t think I could do that [in school] or I’d have to do it in front of a lot of people. That would be awkward.

Graysen does schoolwork at home while sharing a seat with brother Ignacio Sylvester Durkin Lopez. (Brie Kelley)
Graysen does schoolwork at home while sharing a seat with brother Ignacio Sylvester Durkin Lopez. (Brie Kelley)

Michelle Gallegos, 9, third grade

Full-time virtual at Astor K-8, Portland, Ore.

Michelle Gallegos attends a science class as her brother looks on.
Michelle Gallegos attends a science class as her brother looks on.
Michelle waits for a friend’s virtual party to start. (Photos by Elissa Gallegos)
Michelle waits for a friend’s virtual party to start. (Photos by Elissa Gallegos)

LEFT: Michelle Gallegos attends a science class as her brother looks on. RIGHT: Michelle waits for a friend’s virtual party to start. (Photos by Elissa Gallegos)

Where do you set up to do your schoolwork?

Well, I’m usually in my room, but when I don’t have any Internet, I go to my mom and dad’s room.

Does the Internet act up at your house a lot?

Yes, like, I was in the middle of a test yesterday, a really big test, and I lost connection. I was very mad.

How do you feel about virtual learning?

I really like it because you get to see whoever is taking care of you almost every day. Sometimes you don’t because they’re at work, but my dad’s also doing online working, so I really like it.

The only thing that I don’t really like about not doing face-to-face is I really miss my friends.

What have you learned about your teachers over the last year?

They’re really smart, and I’m glad that they’re making me smart.

David Chevez, 9, fourth grade

Full-time virtual at Bradley Elementary, Boston

David Chevez at his workspace for virtual class. (Courtesy of the family)
David Chevez at his workspace for virtual class. (Courtesy of the family)

Are you going in to school?

I’m staying at home because we’re really scared about covid right now.

How do you feel about the idea of going back to school in person?

I feel a little bit scared and nervous about it. But I feel a little fine, because I know we’re always going to be wearing a mask. It’s not really a problem for me, wearing a mask all day long. When I’m outside, I always have to wear a scarf since I have asthma.

What have you learned about yourself over the last year?

What I’ve learned about myself is that I like reading a lot more.

What have you learned about the country?

That it’s not always easy to have, like, a little sickness, and some people are struggling with it.

Joaquin Gallinar, 11, fifth grade

Full-time virtual at Mesita Elementary, El Paso

Joaquin Gallinar doing schoolwork from home.
Joaquin Gallinar doing schoolwork from home.
Joaquin on his first day of school this academic year. (Photos by Carlos Gallinar)
Joaquin on his first day of school this academic year. (Photos by Carlos Gallinar)

LEFT: Joaquin Gallinar doing schoolwork from home. RIGHT: Joaquin on his first day of school this academic year. (Photos by Carlos Gallinar)

What does learning at home look like for you?

It’s a lot boringer, because you have to, like, sit down all day. Before covid it was fun. I liked recess, like most kids. I liked learning in person.

What do you miss the most?

I miss playing basketball with my friends in the freezing cold morning. Because that was just really fun.

What did you learn about yourself this year?

That I just need to slow down. I can have a lot of stuff going on, but I just need to slow down and have, like, today — not in the future, not in the past. Today, you know?

Was that something you struggled with at the beginning of this?

I was watching, like, three movies a day on the couch, because I was so bored. And then I started to pick up [that] nothing’s really happening. And so I had to be creative, not on the screen all day.

What did you learn about your family this year?

They can be really annoying but also funny at the same time. My sister plays her flute all day because she has band, and my dad is like [laughs] — he’s trying to be funny, but, like, he’s just being annoying. My mom, she’s not really annoying. She just asks me to do chores and stuff, normal mom stuff.

What are you most looking forward to, when this is over?

I’m looking forward to middle school, to getting the feel of middle school — if it’s bad, like the movies say it is, or if it’s good. My sister says it’s good.

Amora Bernabe, 12, sixth grade

Full-time virtual at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Porcupine, S.D.

Amora Bernabe in February 2021. (Jennifer Iron Cloud-Dupris)
Amora Bernabe in February 2021. (Jennifer Iron Cloud-Dupris)

How has school changed for you since the start of the pandemic?

It’s changed a lot because I can’t see my friends. I can see them virtually, but they’re kind of scared to turn on their cameras.

Why are they scared to turn on their cameras?

Since we start so early, they don’t want to, like, really show their faces because they’re still tired. And, I don’t know, they’re afraid that someone might judge them because they’re in their pajamas or something.

Do you know anyone who’s been personally affected by covid?

In October, me and my family got covid, but we didn’t get it as bad as a few other people I know that had gotten it really bad.

How do you feel about the idea of going back?

I’m excited. I’m just ready to go. Like, I would actually go to school if they let me in a heartbeat because I miss it.

Because you miss your friends?

Yeah. I miss having them make me laugh.

What have you learned about your family?

I’ve learned that they are really funny. They’re smart and kind of, like, courageous. I’d say that because I know they’re all trying to do something to keep us safer, you know?

What did you learn about your teachers over the last year?

I think they’re lonely themselves, because, I mean, I know they spend time with the other teachers, but all my teachers keep saying, “I can’t wait to see you guys.” And I kind of feel like they’re lonely.

Ellie Jones, 12, seventh grade

Full-time in-person at Oxford Middle, Oxford, Miss.

Ellie Jones. (Deborah Jones)
Ellie Jones. (Deborah Jones)

How does your day begin?

When I get here, I get my temperature checked and then we have the school check-in thing where we have to fill out this health form. It asks you if you had a fever, if you’ve traveled and if you’ve been, like, around people who have had [covid].

Has any part of it been difficult?

Sometimes I get a little mad because my friends don’t have their masks on properly. I try to keep my mask on all the time just for other people. A lot of people don’t think it’s as important. And I just kind of let them do their thing.

One time, I accidentally clicked something [on the health form] and they called me to the nurse. So I guess if you have symptoms or something, you get called to the nurse and she asks you questions about it.

Is there anything you feel you’ve missed out on because of the pandemic?

This year, they canceled the school dance, and it was going to be my first dance. It feels important to me. I’m a very social type of person, and I always looked forward to school dances because I watch a lot of TV shows.

What have you learned about your teachers over the last year?

They actually get frustrated. [My mom] teaches all high school students, ninth grade. So if I was talking about my mom, I’ve learned that there’s a lot more work that had to be done during the pandemic outside of school because she had a lot of stuff to do.

Kylie Shulman, 13, eighth grade

Full-time virtual at Tyee Middle, Bellevue, Wash.

Kylie Shulman on her first day of school this academic year. (Ngina Shulman)
Kylie Shulman on her first day of school this academic year. (Ngina Shulman)

Does it feel like you’re doing more or less work now?

There’s a huge workload, which is really rough because a lot of teachers probably assume that because you’re spending all day at home that you have a lot of time. But it’s kind of the opposite this year. Everything feels more stressful.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t know how to interact with people socially anymore. Do you ever experience that?

Yeah. Sometimes I’ll be on a walk with my family and I’ll see someone that I know, and they’ll say hello. I just freeze up because I don’t know how to respond. [Laughs.] Because, yeah, it’s very different than just typing “hi” in the chat. Like you have to say it with your mouth and use hand gestures, but you don’t really know how to do that anymore.

What did you learn about the country this year?

I learned that if we just all stop for a second, we can join together and we can make real change, and that Gen Z is a pretty powerful generation. We have changed a lot in the world.

Over the summer, everyone was posting stuff about Black Lives Matter. They were going to protests, they were signing petitions. They have been advocating for what they know is right and making sure that change actually happens, and that it’s not a trend to say “Black lives matter,” it’s what is happening and what needs to happen.

Kylie’s virtual school setup. (Ngina Shulman)
Kylie’s virtual school setup. (Ngina Shulman)

Connor Shaw, 15, ninth grade

Full-time virtual at Preble High, Green Bay, Wis.

Connor Shaw's first day of freshman year. (Photos by Theresa Shaw)
Connor Shaw's first day of freshman year. (Photos by Theresa Shaw)

How do you feel about virtual learning?

It’s easier because it’s more at your pace, but I definitely want to be back in school. I don’t like being away from other kids or teachers.

Is there anything you feel like you’ve missed out on?

I missed spring sports and fall sports. But I also missed being able to talk to other people.

Do you feel like it’s important to have a “normal” high school experience?

Yeah. I’m fortunate that it’s only my freshman year, and I’m glad that it’s not my senior year and I’m missing the end of high school. I can’t wait to get the actual high school experience.

Jaxon Balmer, 15, ninth grade

Full-time virtual at St. Tammany Parish Public Schools, Mandeville, La.

Jaxon Balmer. (Robyn Somerhalder)
Jaxon Balmer. (Robyn Somerhalder)

What did you learn about yourself this year?

Ever since [in-person] school ended, I just grew a lot lazier when it came to a lot of things. I used to be a lot more of a go-getter. And I guess I just didn’t really care anymore and just kind of did whatever I wanted to do. And so I’ve recently been changing that.

What kinds of things did you feel like you were giving up on?

One of them was talking to my friends. I guess everyone noticed that the only person I really talked to during the pandemic was my girlfriend, because we had met right before it all started. And since we’re long-distance and stuff, we only are allowed to talk on FaceTime anyway.

Was it hard starting a relationship in a pandemic?

I think it actually made it a lot easier for us to, like, build our knowledge of one another. Because if the pandemic wouldn’t have been here, she would have been doing something else with her friends. I would have just been at home doing whatever. We kind of took that time and we talked to each other.

Has the virus affected you or anyone you know?

My mom actually had it back in October. It really affected her. My step-grandparents had it too. But they didn’t seem to take it as bad as my mom did. She’s fine now.

What did you learn about the country this year?

I’ve learned that our country is not the best place to be. Nowhere in the world is really a good place to be anymore, but I was really hoping that America could pull through and be kind of a symbol for what we can be doing right in the world. But I realized that’s not the case.

Serenity Corbin-Banks, 15, 10th grade

Full-time virtual at Cristo Rey Philadelphia High, Philadelphia

Serenity Corbin-Banks. (Serenity Corbin-Banks)
Serenity Corbin-Banks. (Serenity Corbin-Banks)

How has school changed for you in the last year?

We’re not in the building anymore. And I never thought I would miss the building so much, oh my gosh. It’s a little bit harder to connect with my teachers because I’m not physically there. So it’s like: Hey, I have a question; okay, I have to send you a private message in a chat. I’m a people person, so that was definitely my biggest, hardest thing.

Can you tell me more about what you miss?

Definitely the building. I love this building. I hated walking to the fourth floor because the steps would kill you — it felt like a horrible workout. But I miss it. I would give so much to do that workout at 7:55 in the morning right now.

How do you feel about going back to school in person?

I feel like my grades are a little bit better in a virtual setting. The way covid is going right now, I feel a little bit safer in the house with my own personal setting, and I feel like I have more control. I have time to plan my lessons, and that’s just a little better for me because I’m a control freak.

What are you most looking forward to this school year?

I’m looking forward to it ending. I loved my sophomore year — it’s been great to me — but I’m looking forward to my junior year.

What did you learn about your family this year?

That they are annoying, but I still love them. I love that they are annoying. [Laughs.]

Jourdan Duncan, 17, 11th grade

Full-time virtual at Benjamin E. Mays High, Atlanta

Jourdan Duncan on his first day of school in 2019.
Jourdan Duncan on his first day of school in 2019.
Jourdan at his schoolwork station on his first day of school in 2020. (Photos by Brendalynne Duncan)
Jourdan at his schoolwork station on his first day of school in 2020. (Photos by Brendalynne Duncan)

LEFT: Jourdan Duncan on his first day of school in 2019. RIGHT: Jourdan at his schoolwork station on his first day of school in 2020. (Photos by Brendalynne Duncan)

Is there anything coming up this school year that you hope you can do in person?

Well, first of all, of course, going back to school normally. Second of all, I’m looking forward to taking the SAT and the ACT in person. I’m looking forward to just coming back to school and interacting with my classmates, because I am the junior class president. So I just want to get back and get things running.

What have you learned about yourself over the last year?

I had a mind-set when the pandemic began and we started virtual learning that I won’t have to do this, I won’t have to do that, and it kind of sidetracked me. But of course, as time progresses and you get different types of classes, it motivates you to want to actually do more work and get it done before you have to worry about it at a later time.

What are you most excited to do when the pandemic is over?

One thing, of course, is just experiencing senior year. I just want to get that full senior experience.

Liya Gebremeskel, 17, 12th grade

Two days in person, three days virtual at Greeley West High, Greeley, Colo.

Liya Gebremeskel at Greeley West High School in Colorado. (Kim Desmond)
Liya Gebremeskel at Greeley West High School in Colorado. (Kim Desmond)

What’s been difficult about the shift to virtual learning?

My mom goes to work at JBS [meat-processing facility] at 3 a.m., or 2. So in the morning, I’ve got to wake up, make coffee for her and make breakfast while I’m learning online.

Who’s in the house with you when you’re doing virtual learning?

I have two younger brothers, and I have a little sister. It’s hard. We only have two rooms, and all of us are learning online. I try to be in my room, and my sister is taking classes there, so she’ll say, “Oh no, you have to be over there. My teacher can hear you.” I am like, then where do you want me to be?

So the last time I had a presentation I literally presented to my class in the bathroom because I did not have a room to do it. And then my brother came in. I was like, “What are you doing? I’m trying to present!” He was like, “I’m trying to use the restroom.” I’m like, “You guys just literally kicked me out from the room.” It’s hard. That’s why I really want to go [full-time] in person.

What are you looking forward to in the future?

I just want to graduate and then go to college. So I really have to apply for a scholarship. If I get a scholarship — that’s so exciting! — I can go to college and learn.

Liya. (Kim Desmond)
Liya. (Kim Desmond)

What have you learned about the country over the last year? [Gebremeskel came to the United States as a refugee from Ethiopia about four years ago.]

One thing I like about America is the school. Because back in Ethiopia they teach you, but it’s hard. They literally hit you with a stick if you don’t do your homework. And it was way too expensive. And here you just get to learn, but you don’t have to pay.

If my dad was here it would be good, so he could see me graduate from high school. That’s all I want. But he’s not here. It’s been two years since we started his case. I’m so sorry I’m crying.

[Liya turned off her camera for a long moment.]

I try not to cry, but it’s really sad, because my dad’s not here and he’s by himself back home and he misses his children. He always calls to ask us if we’re okay. There is a lot happening back home. The president of Ethiopia is having a war with the Tigray people. It’s not really good, what’s happening. I can see through social media what [the president is] doing; people getting killed, children are going hungry. And then my dad still tells us he’s okay because he doesn’t want us to feel bad. He said, “Oh, I’m fine, Liya.” Yeah, it’s a lot.

Olivia Mashiana, 17, 12th grade

Full-time in-person at Unalakleet School, Unalakleet, Alaska

Olivia Mashiana making sushi for culture day at her school.
Olivia Mashiana making sushi for culture day at her school.
Olivia on her first day of school this academic year. (Photos by Kristen Mashiana)
Olivia on her first day of school this academic year. (Photos by Kristen Mashiana)

LEFT: Olivia Mashiana making sushi for culture day at her school. RIGHT: Olivia on her first day of school this academic year. (Photos by Kristen Mashiana)

How did school change for you in the pandemic?

In school we have to wear masks. Our desks are separated pretty far apart. We can’t go into certain parts of the school at certain times just to, like, avoid congregating and mixing with the middle-schoolers and elementary kids.

Sports have changed a lot. And traveling. Basketball is super big here. And now they can’t travel and people can’t travel here, and that’s like the whole point, to compete, and they can’t do it now. [Mashiana’s school district is one of the most remote in the country. Sports teams travel to away games by plane.]

Does your school feel different than it was before?

Our school has always been a chaotic space, lots of people moving around, everybody going to different places, and now it’s just sort of quiet, mellowed out. Everybody keeps to themselves. A lot of kids have issues wearing masks in school.

Are you able to have prom this year, and what happened last year?

Last year, we did not have prom. They set up the whole prom court and they voted on the radio, but everybody did their own thing on prom night. This year I think we’re going to have prom because now they set a regulation of how many people can be in the gym, and it’s 80 people and only 40 to 50 people go to prom. So I think it’s going to happen. I’m not 100 percent sure. I hope so.

Olivia presenting on Google Meet with one of her teachers. (Kristen Mashiana)
Olivia presenting on Google Meet with one of her teachers. (Kristen Mashiana)

Are you worried about missing milestones?

I’m definitely scared to not have the full graduation experience, because my adviser is talking about having a virtual graduation ceremony. And I don’t know, I’ve always looked forward to having the big, like, community-is-watching-me graduation. I hope that still happens. But I do think I’m missing out on some things. The seniors are super celebrated in our school, and lots of activities happen surrounding graduation and senior prom and stuff like that, so I hope things go back to normal soon.

Do you have plans for after you graduate?

I would like to — God willing that I’m accepted — go to the University of Washington.

What have you learned about the country?

I have seen so many things kind of fall apart so quickly and easily, and it just amazes me how people can go into a mind-set of chaos in a matter of days and not think about how it’s affecting other people. It’s saddening and disappointing to see how easily things went downhill so quickly. I’m hoping that things are getting better. But I had a lot more faith in the American people, and they sort of let me down.

About this story

Marin Cogan is a writer based in Washington. Design by Clare Ramirez.

Photo illustration by Gluekit; based on photos of, from left, Connor Shaw (by Theresa Shaw), Joseph Powell (courtesy of Jonathan and Stephanie Powell), Joaquin Gallinar (by Carlos Gallinar), Graysen Lopez (by Brie Kelley), Billie Null (by Taryn Null) and Kylie Shulman (by Ngina Shulman)

Marin Cogan is a writer in Washington.