Left to right: Olivia Feldman, Sam Sheinbaum, Emily Feldman, Jake Fogel,
Left to right: Olivia Feldman, Sam Sheinbaum, Emily Feldman, Jake Fogel,

High school seniors miss out on traditions but are hopeful the fall will bring new experiences.

This year’s high school seniors thought they’d be walking across a stage to receive their diplomas next month. They thought they’d be able to dress up for prom and attend senior all-night parties and win Water Wars competitions.

Instead, like the rest of us, they’re staying home.

“To be honest, it’s pretty disappointing,” said Sam Shienbaum, a senior at Groves High School. “My whole class has just been looking forward to this exact moment their whole lives. It’s something that you want to cherish.”

The loss of the celebration hit hard for Olivia Feldman, a senior at Frankel Jewish Academy.

“For me, high school was really stressful, and I overcame a lot of challenges,” she said. “And I think graduation and completing high school is really something I was looking forward to doing in person.”

FJA’s small senior class agreed they wanted to wait until they could meet in person to celebrate graduation and prom, even if that means holding the events late this summer or next fall. But other FJA events, like the annual senior class trip to Israel and Poland, can’t be postponed or replicated online. 

Emily Feldman, who also attends FJA and is not related to Olivia Feldman, decided not to go on last year’s Teen Mission to Israel because she knew the senior trip was coming up this year.

“That definitely was something I was looking forward to throughout high school,” she said. “I made a conscious decision to forgo a recreational experience to do this meaningful experience, so that’s really sad.”

Jake Fogel, a senior at Bloomfield Hills High School, said his large public school plans to hold a “drive-in” graduation, where seniors can come to the school’s parking lot and watch a slideshow presented on large projector screens.

“The reception has been pretty good,” he said. “People are excited to have something — a lot of us were either expecting nothing or to have something a lot later.”

Fogel, who plans to attend the University of Michigan in the fall, said he thinks the online format “is going to be interesting.” He isn’t sure how placement tests and other activities will be conducted yet.

High school ceremonies aren’t the only thing the class of 2020 will miss out on. Emily Feldman was supposed to work at Tamarack Camps this summer, but the organization  canceled this year’s programs.

She’s trying to stay positive. Still, she said, “I planned these few months of my life and looked forward to them for so long and to have none of that happening — it’s tough.”

College orientations, usually held in person on campuses over the summer, are also being conducted virtually this year.

And although several universities have committed to holding in-person classes in the fall, many schools — including the University of Michigan and Michigan State University — have not made any official decisions on whether they’ll let students come back to campus.

Fogel is hoping he’ll be able to start college at U-M in September as planned, but he’s heard of people who are considering switching to a school closer to home or taking classes at community college because of the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Shienbaum will attend West Point military academy in the fall and play on the school’s football team. He’s supposed to start basic training in New York on July 13, and he hasn’t heard any instructions to do otherwise yet.

“To be honest, I think that I will have the opportunity to go to New York soon and go to college,” he said. “I’ve just been worried because obviously nobody wants online [learning], but it might be the norm. I hope everybody gets to go, and I hope it’s safe.”

Olivia Feldman plans on taking a gap year in Israel after graduation. She’s been looking forward to the opportunity for a long time.

“I really just needed a year after high school to explore my identity and myself before stepping into the academic world and realizing what I really wanted to do,” she said.

The program she chose, called Hevruta, brings Israeli and American students together. The American students in this year’s class were sent home, and Olivia Feldman worries next year’s program might be canceled altogether.

No decisions have been made yet, but she’s hoping American students will just be asked to quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Israel in September.

Despite all the uncertainty, the class of 2020 is staying hopeful. Fogel said it’s helped his grade come together in new ways.

“The vast majority of people in my grade have been really hopeful and positive… [it] kind of builds that community which maybe we didn’t have as much of in high school,” he said.

Above all, this year’s graduates feel that while it’s upsetting to lose the end of their senior year, there’s still a lot to be grateful for.

“I’m still living life like I have a big future ahead of me and hopefully this is just a blip on the radar,” Emily Feldman said. “And while it is really difficult and challenging, and these experiences are real, I’m just lucky to be healthy and safe.”

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