Reese Oberheim, Swanton High School Class of 2022, is a bit on edge about his senior year. COVID-19 stunted the full “senior” experience for the two graduating classes preceding his, and he doesn’t want to fall victim as well.
“I’m a little scared at the moment. I don’t want that same thing to happen to my class,” Reese said.
His is the third high school senior class across the nation to be affected by coronavirus since the virus emerged in March of 2019, and has now re-surged with a vengeance with the Delta variant, a much more contagious version. Consequently, the Fulton County school districts, recently released, in tandem with the Fulton County Health Department, the Fulton County Schools’ Common Opening Agreement, which basically retains most of the COVID restrictions instituted last school year.
The 17-year-old has mixed emotions about what that means for him and his classmates. They have endured closed campuses, home schooling, and canceled activities over the past two years, and now face a third year of restrictions that may lead to an altered graduation ceremony next May.
Reese said that’s a lot of sacrifice for students who simply wanted to enjoy their coveted high school years.
“There are other students in school who refused to get vaccinated – most of the times it’s the parents (influencing them), other times they don’t believe the facts. There are faculty at school that don’t believe in it,” he said.
He wasn’t particularly bothered by that until he caught the coronavirus in March and infected his entire family, leading to his father’s hospitalization.
“And when I came back to school and these people still had the same attitude, it kind of made me almost a little angry inside that they weren’t accepting the facts that people were giving out,” he said.
He’s heard what graduates from the previous two years say and he doesn’t want to endure what they did. But since his sophomore year, Reese and his classmates have endured the cancellation of many aspects that embody the high school experience – dances, spirit assemblies, and extracurricular activities. He felt cheated.
“There was really no structure as to what was going to happen next, and we went to school every day wondering, ‘Is this the last day we’re going to have to wear masks? Is this the last day we follow hallway restrictions?’” he added.
He said the few attempts by the school administration to instill normalcy into special occasions were appreciated but far from normal. During his junior year, “we called it Homecoming but there was no dancing involved, and the prom was a sit-down (show) that we had to watch.” For someone who initially thought the COVID scare would be over in six months, those were bitter disappointments.
As for his upcoming senior year, “I have a fear they’re going to reinstate the mask mandates and they’re going to reinstate the health orders about people being restricted going out places,” Reese said. “Most of my high school experience was taken away from my whole, entire class. Your sophomore and junior year are really where it’s at. That’s where your clubs are, the dances. Your senior year – that’s where you get the benefits of those.”
At this point, however, Reese would be satisfied with even a restricted graduation ceremony. “If it comes to it, I would be OK with it,” he said. “I feel how we handled the graduation ceremony last year was pretty good. If the class before me could do it, I feel I could do it. (But) obviously I don’t want it to happen.”
Marie Hutchinson, 17, an incoming Wauseon High School senior, feels concerned about missing extracurricular activities, not being able to learn properly, and about the mask controversy.
When COVID-19 emerged during her sophomore year she remembered her parents, both school administrators, saying, “‘You know, we’re going to come back after spring break and everything will be fine, and this won’t be anything.’ And then it just never happened.”
Marie wants the full senior year experience but is afraid that may not happen. “I fear that there might be situations where I want to go to a football game because it’s my senior year, and I want to dress up with the student section, but I don’t know if that might get restricted, and I won’t get to do that senior activity,” she said.
And if Homecoming or prom is forced to cancel “I would be pretty disappointed but I would understand that that is something that would need to be done because of how deadly COVID is,” she said. Last year’s prom involved simply a long, formal dinner.
Still, Marie feels a tinge of resentment over all she’s missed during her high school years due to coronavirus. “I’ve only had one year of high school that was completely normal – my freshman year. So, I admit I feel unhappy that I missed certain things,” she said.
“But one thing Wauseon schools did well was keep school open (my junior year). Last year, they made masks mandatory and kept extracurriculars going. So I feel like I got to participate….but outside of those I was not able to go to a single football game and be in the student section or any of the basketball games. So I feel like I got cheated out of those…but I wasn’t cheated out of my own activities.”
She’ll understand if restrictions still apply when her graduation ceremony arrives, but “I want my grandparents to be there, and I want my brother to be able to come and watch me graduate.”
Marie said she’ll be much more disappointed if restrictions remain or tighten during this upcoming school year. “One of the highlights of Wauseon is how big our senior section is. It’s one of those things everyone looks forward to,” she said.
And while she doesn’t think her senior class will miss out on as much as the previous senior class, “I feel like we’re missing a little bit with what restrictions there are,” Marie said. “I’m just going to try to make the most out of it because I understand it they need to put out restrictions.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.