These are the words of Chris Dier, Louisiana’s 2020 Teacher of the Year and a finalist for national Teacher of the Year. He teaches world history and AP human geography at Chalmette High School in St. Bernard Parish.
“Let’s be abundantly clear - you were robbed and it’s unfair,” Dier continued.
Dier provided this message on his personal blog for the thousands of high school seniors who are attending online classes for their final semester due to COVID-19.
“If you’re upset, then you should embrace those feelings,” he said. “Commiserate with one another. Some folks will downplay the situation because they won’t know what it feels like to have their senior year stripped at the last moment.”
Dier experienced a very similar situation. He was in high school when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005.
“I remember leaving my school on a Friday afternoon with my buddies, only to never return to that school,” Dier said. “I was supposed to be the captain of my soccer team, go to prom with my longtime crush and finish the year with my lifelong friends. But it was all canceled. Instead, I stayed in a shelter and finished high school in a different state.”
He said he was reliving that pain while thinking about the disruption to the seniors’ final year.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time students have had their senior year disrupted.
Many World War II veterans were drafted and unable to finish their senior year - like Joe Perricone, of Florida, in 1943. He was in the U.S. Army and traveled to France, Belgium, Denmark and the United Kingdom, returning in 1945. He finally received his diploma and celebrated the occasion in 2019 at the age of 95.
Polio was another reason student learning was affected, most recently in the 1950s.
Due to Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement that schools would be closed indefinitely, spring sports seasons, clubs, proms and graduations are in question. At the time of this writing, our high schools had not made any decisions about these events.
There is a sense of disappointment for all involved.
Roger K. McFillin, Psy.D., ABPP, board-certified psychologist and executive director of the Center for Integrated Behavioral Health, in Bethlehem, provided some advice for parents and students in dealing with these challenges during the senior year.
“Many current students have not had to face significant problems. They have been relatively protected. Their lives were predictable in many ways,” McFillin said.
He encouraged parents and guardians to “recognize each person’s resilience and, at the same time, realize this is a life lesson. Every generation has had to meet challenges where they have had to learn to adapt. It’s a reflection of what life really is. Accepting allows you the opportunity to learn to adjust.”
McFillin said by radically accepting what life will bring as an uncertainty and challenge, we will be able to adapt and overcome.
For the parents, McFillin said this is an opportunity for perspective. “Parents should check themselves in what they are feeling personally and put it in perspective,” he said. “This is a pandemic. Missing out on a celebration is disappointing but something we can very much deal with. Celebrations can happen later. This is just an opportunity to practice perspective and realize what people are dealing with on a global scale.”
McFillin said parents should validate their students’ emotions, disappointment and loss.
“Grieve the loss and, at the same time, support their resiliency,” he said. “Listen and validate the emotions. There is nothing we can do about it.”
The pandemic is not just affecting high school students. Many college graduates are adjusting as well. Spring classes are now online, and many graduations have been canceled or postponed.
For college seniors, McFillin said there is a lot of economic uncertainty with the job market upon completion of classes.
“Support your kids’ anxieties and fears around that,” McFillin said. “We have a collective history; we can overcome.”
Dier offered encouragement by telling students, “Right now, you have the power to make the most out of this unfortunate situation. If a decade of teaching has taught me anything, it’s that people your age are resilient and innovative … You courageously put yourselves out there for the world to see and criticize. You push boundaries and challenge norms.”
In his advice to students, he suggested ways to get through this difficult time, such as helping others, journaling for posterity and more. “You’re living through history. Your bold reaction to this is going to make history,” Dier said.
In offering support to the students, he said, “I feel your pain; it stings … I am sad for you; truly, I am ... If there is any group that can plow through this in creative ways, it is our group.”
These are very different times than what we are accustomed to. I, like many of my friends, am the parent of a college senior. My son’s graduation has been canceled.
My family is disappointed, but so far, we are healthy. And for that, we feel blessed and are able to put this all into perspective.
To the seniors, I yield to Dier, who said it so well: “There is no pandemic strong enough to silence you or dent the passion of your generation. Keep your head up and keep fighting. Our country needs you because you provide hope for our future. This year may not be what you envisioned, but I’m eager to see what you do with it.”
East Penn Press