This past spring, senior year for the Class of 2020 came to a sudden halt.

Due to COVID-19 and the subsequent shift to online learning at Hawaii Baptist Academy, they were forced to adapt to the new changes during their last quarter of high school. To their relief, junior-senior prom went on as planned and became the last HBA-sponsored group event that school year. In addition to that, the school was still able to host a drive-by senior send-off and in-person graduation ceremony for them. At the time, many HBA students expected that when the new school year began in August, things would return to normal. The junior class especially looked forward to their senior year, complete with traditional events like Senior Camp, a trip to Maui, and a final graduation ceremony with friends and family in attendance. To their dismay, the 2021 school year began with little fanfare as they started senior year online. However, even though in-person school is scheduled for September 14, there is a lot of uncertainty if that will actually go as planned due to the uptick in Covid-19 cases on Oahu.

Heading into this school year, some seniors are taking multiple challenging classes with loads of homework to follow. For many individuals, they prefer in-person classes because it is easier to focus on and understand concepts when they are meeting in-person with a teacher. Tila Nguyen reports feeling unmotivated when it comes to school at the moment. “It’s difficult to stay on task, especially when I’m doing online work,” she said. Asking questions in online classes has also been another concern for people. “In class, [I] can just raise [my] hand, and it doesn’t feel weird; but on Google Meet, it feels weird to type it or unmute [myself] while everyone else is muted,” Karissa Tabadero said.

Online school has also taken its toll on students’ social lives. Normally, they can sit with their friends at lunch and quickly converse or wave to each other during passing periods. However, some students haven’t seen each other since the summer while others have not socialized outside of their household since the first stay-at-home order in March. Like many others, Noah Hanohano relied on his friends to help him survive the school day. “If it’s the morning and I’m having a good time laughing at somebody’s joke, then I go to class thinking ‘okay, I just got to survive till lunch and then we can laugh again,’” he said. While students can still interact over video calls or text their friends, those interactions don’t feel the same, and students may not have the time to do so on top of homework and studying for all their classes.

Seniors are also worried about how the pandemic will affect their college applications. Reiko Shiraishi said, “The college application [is] very stressful because a lot of the SATs and ACTs are getting canceled, and I don’t have any test scores. So, I have to scramble to figure something out.” Many seniors face the same predicament and will probably have to rely on the October in-school SAT, but even that event feels uncertain given the current situation in Hawaii. As the tests keep getting canceled, several colleges are becoming test-optional institutions and not requiring standardized test results for the upcoming Fall applicants. Hinson Leung, however, does not take any comfort in this development as it only puts more weight on other aspects of his college application.  Many seniors are feeling more stressed out about perfecting their personal essays. Colleges are also placing more emphasis on applicants’ extracurriculars. Danford Chang, HBA’s Director of Counseling, said, “I always feel crises reveal character.” To him, if students are able to find ways to work around obstacles that prevent them from participating in an extracurricular or volunteering in their community, then their persistence and flexibility will stand out to the colleges and strengthen their applications. 

During her class’s Netflix Social, Sydney Senter relaxes by eating popcorn and Hot Cheetos. Photography by Sydney Senter (’21).

This year, the senior council and advisers also have the unique challenge of keeping the class united over distance learning. Several seniors are hoping to have a graduation even if it would be modified like last year. Shiraishi is still hoping that the Spring Senior Trip can take place but added, “[It] would be fun to have [the] grade together for one last time, but this isn’t the senior year I imagined.” As for the class council and advisers, the general sentiment appears to be a hopeful one. Despite all the challenges of distance learning, Class President Sydney Senter said, “We are so, so happy to be able to lead and plan and do what we can to make it memorable for you, and we’re thankful for the opportunity to do this… It’s us helping and trying to take what the class is and build off of that and make memories.” On Friday, August 28, the council planned a Netflix Party, one of several mini socials that will be held to allow the class to bond and hang out with each other despite being socially distanced. Joy Maehara said, “I think it was a great idea! The class council is doing the best given the circumstances and being able to watch and chat with each other is a pretty fun virtual social.” Regarding the organization of traditional events, the previous senior class advisers encouraged the Class of 2021 at the beginning of the year to be as flexible as possible. Juri Yamashita, one of seven current senior advisers, believes that “it’s good that [the students are] probably not having the highest expectations because then whatever we do will surpass it.”

In the midst of an unexpected beginning to their senior year, advisers and council members want the class to keep a positive mindset. “Even though there’s a pandemic going on, nothing is going to change because we’re still seniors… So look forward to the future, even though it may not look so positive at the moment,” Cheyanne Yim, senior vice president, said. As for adviser Jenn Duncklee, she acknowledges that while seniors “should feel free to feel all the emotions of sadness or anger or confusion right now, [the class should] not get stuck there and instead find hope and share hope with one another.” Like many other Lifers, students who have been at HBA since kindergarten, Senter has looked forward to traditional HBA events like the Senior Trip or the graduation ceremony. However, she feels that there are still things that remain unchanged. “It’s your final year to soak it all in before you begin this new chapter of your life. Since this is something you look forward to your entire life, there’s nothing that should not make you not look forward to it, you know, even if it’s a worldwide pandemic,” she explained.