Members of the Farmington High School graduating class toss their caps into the air after graduating June 13.

Members of the Farmington High School graduating class toss their caps into the air after graduating June 13.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Farmington-area grads reflect on 2 years of upheaval

By: Zachary Manning | Farmington Press | Published June 24, 2021

 North Farmington class president Terrence Bartell addresses his fellow classmates as Principal Joe Greene looks on during graduation June 13 on the football field.

North Farmington class president Terrence Bartell addresses his fellow classmates as Principal Joe Greene looks on during graduation June 13 on the football field.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Farmington Central High’s Jalen Turner shares a hug with Principal David Reese during the graduation ceremony June 12 at North Farmington.

Farmington Central High’s Jalen Turner shares a hug with Principal David Reese during the graduation ceremony June 12 at North Farmington.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — The 2021 graduating class endured something no other set of seniors has seen with the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the initial wave of cases and schools going virtual to missing dances and losing out on sports seasons — just about everything a high school student should be enjoying — the 2021 class missed out on a lot over their last two years.

It was a brutal stretch of confusion and uncertainty. A few students who lived through the last two years had some words to describe what it was like going through high school in the pandemic.

 

Initial shock
Farmington senior Meghan Burba remembers being on spring break in 2020 when she got the news that there would be an extension of their time off. She was excited at the prospect of getting more time away from school.

Looking back now, she understands that excitement was premature, without knowing the full scope of things to come. But she was one of many who thought this would blow over in a month or two.

North Farmington class president Terrence Bartell was in that group of people who thought it would be a month or two before getting back to normal. It was a common thought early on in the pandemic.

Fellow North Farmington student Ryan Weingarden remembers an anxious and scared feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next. Little did they know what was in store for them. For some of them, the next 16 months would be the biggest struggle of their lives.

“As we saw the cases go up higher and higher, I remember it was initially three a day and then it quickly escalated to hundreds and thousands. Seeing that definitely shocked everybody at our school and made everybody realize this is probably going to last much longer than everybody thought,” Bartell said.

 

Going virtual
It was an adjustment for everybody. Students weren’t used to learning through a screen; nor were teachers prepared for a sudden shift in teaching techniques.

Many found it hard to muster the motivation to do schoolwork, pay attention and keep up with their grades. With parents maybe working from home, video games always available or other things vying for their attention, it was a tough transition.

“In what feels like a snap we switched from seeing our friends every day, focusing on school, sports, planning dances and doing extracurriculars to the world being shut down with us now opening a laptop in our bedrooms to go to school,” Weingarden said.

Then there was the isolation.

Many kids didn’t use the cameras on their laptop and utilized the mute function unless they were called upon. Students went from seeing their friends and peers every day to looking at a screen with no faces.

Various studies have shown the negative impact that going virtual has had on high school students.

North Farmington Principal Joe Greene said he and fellow faculty members tried to provide as much support as possible, but in a time of social distancing and the unknown, there was only so much that they could do.

“Kids were retreating inwards. They were feeling isolated, so I think the cameras started to turn off. It just took a toll,” Greene said. “We’re not built to be isolated. We are built to be together, and this school reinforces that just by the culture in the building. I think for our kids it was so hard not being able to see and connect and hear and even just be in the presence of others.”

Another challenge of going virtual was everything the class missed out on. Junior year is pivotal for students looking to enter college and for testing. Many SAT and ACT testing sites were shut down, and those looking to take those exams had to wait or find different online resources. College tours were shut down, so online resources and virtual tours were the only way students could get information on prospective universities.

Being away from school also proved challenging in applying for colleges when students were ready. Without being in school to talk with counselors, it was a trying process for some.

“It was another learning process,” Burba said. “I had to do online research and push the whole process backwards. I did my applications and then ended up touring the schools this year. It was definitely a weird time to be a junior and have to figure all that stuff out.”

 

The return
Once the pandemic started to slow down a little bit, families were eventually able to decide whether they’d prefer to remain virtual or head back to in-person learning.

For many, it was a weird feeling being back in a school they hadn’t seen in about a year. For teachers and students, it was yet another transition they had to make.

Classes were having kids virtually and in-person, so catering to both of groups’ needs was challenging at times. Still, having some return to normalcy was a good thing for those who hadn’t had normal in a long time.

“I remember on the first day coming back, for me, witnessing everyone walk the halls to the first hour social distanced with masks on, shields by our sides, and social distanced, and while it was a scene I have never seen before, it was also a comforting one seeing the people and faces who were here almost a year prior walking the same halls to the same classrooms we walked prior to the chaos,” Weingarden said.

Still, getting to graduation was the key, especially after missing out on so many events throughout the year. Getting one final run with their classmates was pivotal.

 

Graduation
With things returning to somewhat normal again, Farmington and North Farmington high schools were able to have in-person graduations on June 13 at their respective schools.

For the students who did graduate, it was a feeling of triumph and achievement. The 2021 class endured something no other class in their lifetime has seen. Greene noted that Bartell delivered a powerful speech at graduation. Bartell will head to the University of Michigan to study engineering.

“Having that graduation, everybody together, seeing all of our parents, friends, teachers, everybody in the bleachers, entire senior class on the football field together as one, that definitely was a solidifying moment,” Bartell said. “After 13 long years we all worked extremely hard through school, we all faced many challenges during that time, so seeing everybody united together and getting ready to receive their diploma for all their hard work during a time when many of us didn’t know if we’d be able to have a regular graduation was definitely very rewarding.”

Though there is satisfaction with graduating, there are also a lot of what ifs to be answered. Weingarden sometimes finds himself looking back on all that was missed out on. He will be attending Michigan State University to study public affairs in hopes of pursuing a law degree.

“It’s a very bittersweet feeling for myself, being able to graduate in a time like this. I am definitely very proud of myself for handling my grades during a time like this and succeeding the challenge that was played upon us, though part of me does dwell on the fact I was unable to participate in many of the traditions and milestones that the senior class generally gets to do,” Weingarden said. “Going to tailgates and football games, pep rallies, senior homecoming, powderpuff, Mr. NF, painting the rock at the beginning of the year are among the many traditions seniors generally get to participate in during the senior year, and we were never really given the chance to do so.”

As for Burba, she will be off to Ohio State University to study business and will be part of a community service and leadership scholars program. Like her FPS counterparts, there are certain what ifs to be answered, but she is proud of herself for persevering through everything that the pandemic threw at her.

“It’s been weird because we haven’t had those senior events all year, so now that we’re all having them, we finally feel like a class and then we’re leaving,” Burba said. “I’m really excited just to spend more time with my classmates and to celebrate everything that we did overcome and go through together.”

For Greene and other faculty, there is a sense of pride when it comes to the 2021 class. It was something they all got to experience together and something he wishes no class ever has to experience again.

“It was the perfect punctuation on an absurd year,” Greene said of graduation. “I hope between Terrence and I, in our speeches we both talked about similar things about trying to pivot from what we might’ve lost to what we learned and gained from it. I think they come out with a very steely and tested resilience. I think they come out with a sense of the importance of sacrifice for the greater good. I think they come out of it with a sense of perseverance, that they can get through things and can achieve the things that they want, and I think they’re well poised for the challenges life is going to throw at them.”

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