Students reflect on senior year amid pandemic

Samantha Anderson celebrates her graduation from the Yadkin Early College.

Courtesy photo

A student’s senior year of high school is expected to be the highlight of their school experience — their final year with friends they have made before they go their separate ways, off to college, the military or workforce. Prom, graduation and special honor nights for those involved with sports and other clubs are just a few of things seniors most look forward to. For the class of 2020, however, their final year in high school ended abruptly without the usual fanfare. In March, high schoolers were among all of those who had to quickly adjust to a “new normal.”

Samantha Anderson, a 2020 graduate of the Yadkin Early College, was among high schoolers from Yadkin County who have experienced a most unusual end to their high school career as well an equally strange beginning to their college career. Anderson graduated second in her class from the Early College. A member of the Interact Club, she also played basketball for her school as well as working at the Yadkin YMCA and Yadkin County Schools Out of School Time program. She served as a student representative on the Yadkin County Board of Education and had more than 700 volunteer hours upon graduation.

Anderson is now in the honors college at Western Carolina University where she is majoring in Integrated Health Sciences with a pre-professional concentration and minor in Sociology. Her ultimate goal is to obtain a doctorate in Physical Therapy.

Here Anderson shares with The Yadkin Ripple her experiences on how the COVID-19 pandemic changed her world these last few months.

In her own words:

“At the start of my final year at Yadkin Early College, all I could think about was all the lasts of high school, prom, and graduation. I knew I would play my last game of basketball as a Yadkin Early College Lady Wolf. I couldn’t wait to get all dressed up and dance at prom. I was counting down the days to my high school graduation where I would receive my diploma and make my speech. I was also counting down to my college graduation where I would receive my Associate of Arts and my Associate of Science. I was looking forward to so many things, then COVID-19 extended my spring break by one week.

“I assumed we would be back in class the following week, so I was happy to have a little more time to relax. When I realized that we were switching to online instruction and that we wouldn’t be going back, I knew things were going to be hard. The switch to online instruction was difficult because there were so many things that could, and did, go wrong. From microphones not working, not being able to see shared screens, and the system freezing to the workload that seemed to double or triple, not being able to talk face to face with instructors, and missing the social part of class, the problems we faced were all new.

“While some students got the grade they had before we left school and had less to worry about, as an early college student I didn’t get to do that. College classes continued, so I had to keep working for my final grades. Anytime I wasn’t doing school work I was running to get rid of some of the stress. When I realized that I wasn’t going to get a traditional graduation from high school or the college, I was so upset. I had worked so hard to be able to walk across that stage, then that was just taken away. I had a virtual ceremony and received my diploma. Then both of my degrees arrived in the mail. When I finally was able to hold all of those things in my hands, it became so real. I had graduated, and it was an amazing feeling!

“After that I started preparing to go to Western Carolina University. I spent a lot of time online ordering things for college, since stores were closed due to the virus. I spent time with family and friends, because I knew once I moved to Cullowhee, I wouldn’t be able to. I was looking forward to the entire college experience: sports, hanging out with friends, and normal classes. While classes are not normal, I’m not getting to go to sports events, and I’m having to stay a safe distance from friends, the college experience is going well so far. It may not be normal but we have adjusted to the changes. WCU is taking all the precautions to protect the students and keep us here on campus. The past several months have been nothing like I imagined it would be. While it seems everything around me has changed, I know that God hasn’t changed. That is what has gotten me through all this craziness so far and the reason I know that no matter what it will be okay.”

This is the first of a three-part series sharing the experiences of Yadkin County high school seniors.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.