Proms Gone, Graduations Online: Pandemic Cancels Kids' Rites of Passage


MONDAY, May 18, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- COVID-19 is stealing all the pomp and circumstance from end-of-year celebrations for this year's high school and college graduates.

Take Lily McConnell, 17, a senior at Lakeland High School in Shrub Oak, N.Y. She was looking forward to a lot of things -- big and small -- that were supposed to happen during her final months in high school.

"There are the obvious things that have been canceled, like graduation and prom," McConnell said, also noting that she had been cast as one of the leads in her school play. That has also been canceled.

"Lakeland has a senior picnic, and a day where we go to our elementary schools and say goodbye. Honestly, these things are what I'm most upset about -- classroom celebrations, getting my yearbook signed, the small things," she said.

McConnell pointed out that teenagers know they could have it way worse. "We know that people have lost their jobs, people are sick and dying, but that doesn't mean that we can't be upset about losing our senior year. We are allowed to be upset," she said.

College seniors are feeling the disappointment, too.

Justin Crowe, 21, a college senior at Northeastern University in Boston, said, "The COVID pandemic has caused the end of my undergraduate years to be anti-climactic. I worked so hard toward my degree, and frankly, the sudden goodbye to Northeastern University was heartbreaking."

He said he only had a few days to say farewell to friends and faculty. "Part of being a senior is getting to enjoy all of those 'final' things, and now I never got that. Yes, I technically have my degree and 'graduated,' but to hand in your last paper over e-mail and then be congratulated over Zoom is not the same," Crowe said.

Adding insult to injury, Crowe's post-graduate job offer was rescinded by the company due to the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

"This was very hard news to find out, because I finally felt like I had my life on track. I knew where I was going," he said.

They may not realize 'it will get better'

Angela Stowe, director of Student Counseling Services and Wellness Promotion at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), said this sudden uncertainty can be very hard for everyone, but may be especially difficult for teens and young adults.

"They don't have as much life experience yet to know it will get better, and this will end up being a time you tell stories about," she said.

It is a big deal though, and parents need to be compassionate, Stowe explained. "Part of what they've lost are experiences that help them transition to the next phase of their lives. It's important to acknowledge that it's a loss you will grieve, and that's OK."

Stowe also said it's important to remember that you're not alone in this. "This is a national and international crisis. History tells us that people will figure it out, but we don't know exactly what that will look like yet," she said.

Stowe said it's important for families to honor their seniors' transition. What that will look like depends on the family and the traditions that are important to you.

Some families may have taken part in the nationally televised graduation program featuring former President Barack Obama on Saturday night. Other families have come up with creative solutions, such as mimicking a social-distancing graduation in their own backyard for their graduate. Still other families have created graduation parades with the graduate standing near the road, and friends and family drive by to congratulate the graduate.

Schools are doing their part, too. McConnell said her school, like many others, had yard signs printed for families to put in their yards to acknowledge the momentous occasion.

She said her school also sent T-shirts and a graduation cap to decorate. Her school is also trying to figure out a way to conduct a senior prom virtually. But McConnell did say these steps haven't really been helpful for her.

Right now, the college in Rhode Island where McConnell was accepted is still scheduled to open in the fall.

"UAB and other schools are looking for ways to engage kids online. It's not the same as physically being on campus for orientations, but schools really are trying to be creative and create a sense of belonging," Stowe said. She suggested that students should try to get connected with other students online.

Don't let unsettled job market get you down

For college seniors who've had job offers taken back and are now heading out into a very uncertain job market, Stowe said your college's career center can be a great resource.

"There are actually jobs out there right now, and there are things you can be doing," she said.

Crowe said he's busy pounding the virtual pavement -- aiming to send out at least 10 resumes a day. He hopes to have a new job offer in hand soon.

"My advice for other young adults in the same situation is to not take rejections personally in this time," he said, and added that you shouldn't expect everyone to get back to you.

"Everyone is shaken up and very busy during this time. This sucks, but it sucks for everyone. We all have new definitions on what life looks like and we are trying to figure out how to handle these changes. Work on your resume, build your network and apply to jobs," he advised.

Stowe said it may help to give kids something to look forward to. "That big graduation trip you had planned might not happen now, but what about the future?" She said you can start to plan other experiences for when life starts getting back to normal.

More information

Read more about student stress from COVID-19 from the American Psychological Association.

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