Photo By Arielle Romero
As the 2020-2021 school year winds down, students are decompressing from a year filled with more struggles than most of us have faced in the last three combined. At this pinnacle of their academic career, Seniors have not only had to figure out distance learning and fight the pitfalls of social isolation, many have had to face the mental health issues that have come along with the pandemic. Seniors especially felt the stress of distance learning and COVID compounded with the pressures of planning their post-high school life.
Seniors have had to apply to colleges without any in-person appointments with a counselor. They’ve had to navigate military recruitment without physically meeting a recruiter. And counseling through Fresno City College was all online this year. Students have also contemplated working after high school or taking a gap year. Choosing what path to take, a task that is already incredibly difficult was made even more challenging because of the struggles that have come with the global pandemic.
As graduation approached, I sat down with six seniors asking about their plans for after high school and beyond. These students, and all of the class of 2021, should be celebrated for not only surviving, but thriving during this unfathomably tough year.
Simon Chow has been very involved as a Grizzly. He was a part of the soccer, wrestling, and tennis teams as well as CSF and HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America or Future Health Professionals).
He told me that he will be attending Fresno State in the fall to pursue a degree in Chemistry. He cited cheaper costs and wanting to remain in a familiar setting as reasons to go to Fresno State. He hopes to become a pharmacist or even a chemist after graduating. He also talked about possibly pursuing a culinary degree at the Institute of Culinary Education in Los Angeles.
Simon cited Mr. Arvisu and Mr. Holdrige as inspiration for choosing his chemistry major. “[Mr. Arvisu] made chemistry interesting to me.” and “[Mr. Holdrige] encouraged me…to just go for it” regarding a Chemistry degree,” Simon explained.
Another student who plans on entering the medical field is Naomi Nguyen who was accepted into several top schools including UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly SLO, Fresno State, UC Berkeley, San Diego State, and UC Santa Cruz.
Naomi said she chose UCLA but said her dream school had been Berkeley for a long time. “I felt like I wouldn’t grow or experience much in the same old environment I’m used to,” Naomi told me, ”I wanted something different so I chose UCLA since they offered [more].” Naomi was admitted as a physics major but plans to switch to bioengineering because she’s decided to work in a medical field. She’s not exactly sure where she sees herself after college but she wants to be a bioengineer for a research institute or facility.
At Central, Naomi was incredibly involved. She participated in the state-award winning robotics team, and served as a member of Central Leadership, the College-Bound Club, and the National Honor Society. She also made time for community service efforts such as introducing elementary students to robotics and advocating for honors classes at Central.
Despite her uniquely decorated high school career, her senior year, like all students’, has been disrupted. She said the toughest thing about this year was experiencing the limitations students faced. She said she struggled with online classes and felt like she didn’t work as hard in her classes and as a result, felt less productive than usual. She also worried about making it into the colleges she wanted, but she’s relieved that things ultimately worked out this year and feels that the worst is behind her.
Bria Cooper is another Grizzly attending a four-year college. Bria is special because she accepted a full-ride scholarship to the University of San Francisco for a major in performing arts and social justice. This major was unique to USF and was one of the main reasons she accepted their offer.
Bria added that she was also accepted into the black scholars’ program at USF, she is now a part of a select group of students who are placed into internships and offered opportunities to meet one-on-one with professors. Along with the University of San Francisco, she was accepted into Fresno State, SDSU, UCSB, Pepperdine, and Howard.
Bria has managed to build an impressive resume by participating in the California legislative black caucus, serving as a youth senator for the Black Students United California, and being elected as the president of the black student union (BSU) for all four years. She also served as a class president, a Leadership member and a cheerleader for all four years. She additionally participated in the children’s music theater, athletes as readers and leaders, and youth court.
Bria isn’t entirely sure where she wants to take her career but she is interested in exploring the fields of theatre or politics. To combine her interests, she is considering a double major in political science or a master’s in TV and film after earning her undergraduate degree. I think just a simple list of Bria’s activities and achievements fails to demonstrate how much of a leader she is in everything she does.
Yet, like everyone else grappling with the pandemic, Bria had to learn how to function the best she could. “The toughest thing I had to overcome [was] balancing all of my responsibilities while navigating through Covid,” Bria stated. She is a model student, athlete, and leader in our community and she is reaping the rewards of all her hard work through four years of high school in defiance of the pandemic.
Kaylee Uhl decided to take a distinctly different route by choosing a military pathway. She will be joining the army and will be a computer technician. Kaylee told me she joined the army because she will “have a job and get college paid for.” She wants to attend Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania and will either major in computer engineering or computer forensics.
A part of the deal with the military is that her college tuition will be paid in full. She will complete her bachelor’s during and after her time in the military. Kaylee told me she wants to pursue a career related to forensics with some sort of agency like the CIA.
Kaylee participated in the guitar program, leadership, and Folklorico, a very respectable resume at Central. Though there were other options available to her, the idea of graduating debt free was too compelling to pass up.
However, this significant benefit comes with some sacrifice. Kaylee shared that she struggled with the fact that she will be moving across the country for the military. “I’ve lived in Fresno all my life,” Kaylee explained, “It’s very hard to imagine moving all the way across the country, especially since I won’t be able to visit home until Christmas. It’s been very difficult to come to terms with.” Kaylee will be leaving for basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina next month.
Cadee Christiansen is planning to go to college at Utah State as a statistics major. Utah State gave Cadee the non-resident dean’s scholarship and the honors scholarship. As a Grizzly, Cadee participated in choir, leadership, track, and theater. She plans to utilize her skills and degree to become a business financial analyst. Cadee credits Mr. Russu for developing her interests in statistics and Ms. Sousa for helping her refine her interests and develop her job skills.
Cadee’s path differs from most other students because of her plan to potentially go on a mission. Mormons are eligible to go on a mission at age 19, where they spend two years at an unknown location which could be just about anywhere in the world. Missionaries spend their time educating others about their religion and conducting community service. Cadee is unsure if she will undergo this process, but is strongly considering it.
Some students have trouble deciding what their next move is after high school, which is very understandable. Your post-high school plan is a very difficult thing to navigate. This is where Stephanie Bustos finds herself. She doesn’t know whether she wants to attend community college or to take a gap year and save some money. Stephanie felt like she may have needed a break from school for a year before she continues her education. Regardless of whether she plans to start school in 2021 or 2022, she looks to eventually become a forensic pathologist. She told me that Ms. Schefer was the teacher that helped her get interested in science, “I took three of her classes…it helped give me a better understanding of [biochemistry and biology].”
Stephanie, like seniors in this article and those across the country, struggled with finishing simple tasks during school, “I had to work twice as hard to reach the outcome that some don’t have to struggle as much to get to.” She told me that mental illness was to blame for her declining motivation, “I learned I have depression, anxiety, and ADHD. I got [exhausted] doing simple things.” Stephanie’s struggle to keep up on schoolwork is something many Central students have experienced this year. Turning in assignments can seem like climbing mountains when you’re battling mental illness, so you can only imagine how a global pandemic would affect Stephanie and students suffering from similar challenges. Many students may have only experienced mild symptoms prior to the impact of Covid conditions, only to see them fully expressed under the duress of life amidst a global pandemic.
Luckily, we are approaching the end of a turbulent school year. I’ve been able to relate to my peers’ struggles in this story as well as the dozens I’ve heard throughout this time, battling the mental and physical effects of this past year or so is enough to tear the strongest of us down. The class of 2021’s senior year has been gutted of what it usually entails, but we’ve made it. Graduation approaches and Covid-19 restrictions are beginning to be lifted across the country. Students will finally move onto a better place whether it’s college, the military, or something else. Our future is still full of possibilities. The class of 2021 will finally be able to move on from the hell that has been the past 15 or so months. While we all lament our losses, more than ever, it’s a time to feel joy and pride.