Arts & Entertainment

Meet the Dallas Class of 2020

These 10 graduates had a unique experience to end their time in high school. College won't be the same either. Hear from them in their own words.

I didn’t have a conventional high school experience.

I went to one school freshman year, another sophomore year, then finally settled into a homeschool co-op when I was a junior. Still, I got the gist of things. My friends at public schools would take me to football and baseball games, homecoming dances and school plays. By senior year, I had a boyfriend who invited me to his prom and made it feel like a perfect teen rom-com, even though I only knew about five people there. I didn’t have a graduation that spring, but my parents had a barbecue in my honor. My dad Photoshopped a graduation cap onto the photos my mom snapped for the invitation.

So while I didn’t have a traditional high school experience, I always got to be a normal teenager. For the graduating class of 2020, that’s not possible. You and I–we never had to worry about a pandemic while navigating the time between childhood and independence.

I wanted to understand what that would be like. So, I spoke to 10 graduating students from across Dallas-Fort Worth and asked them how it feels to grow into adulthood while the world around them seemingly falls apart. Their answers gave me a lot of hope. Let’s give them the recognition they deserve. (The interviews below have been edited for length and clarity.)

Eduardo Lobo

John Paul II High School

I plan to make a decision rather quickly, but right now, I’m still undecided because of the fact that you don’t know when school is going to start back up again and who’s going to handle the online aspect of it better. As of now, I only have schools in mind. I feel like I’ve wanted to put it to the last minute, which sounds bad, but I don’t know. Knowing more information about how it’s going to end up, how it’s going to end up being in August, it’s beneficial for choosing a school. I’ve been thinking about deferring to spring as well.

I’m looking at OU, Austin College, St. Ed’s–I kind of want to stay close.

Most schools just say, ‘we’re going to have school,’ but you really don’t know. They’ll say that now, but they can change it at any moment, especially if there’s a second wave.

If it’s all online I would probably defer to the spring and maybe take some online courses at a community college. I feel like it’s not worth the money to go to one of those schools I’ve listed for it to be just online, you know? College isn’t only an academic experience.

My friends are kind of, like, ignorant to the fact that there might not be school. Whenever it’s discussed they’re just like, ‘no, it’s going to happen.’ They’re not really thinking ahead in that way.

I hated doing classes online, that’s part of the reason I want to wait. I had pretty good grades the quarter before and then I can’t–I don’t know, I can’t make myself work at my own pace. I need someone telling me when to do it. I did pretty worse the quarter we had online.

My sister had a baby recently, so we’ve kind of been shut down a little bit. I haven’t gone out necessarily. So, the only thing that the school had planned was a rally. So you’d go around in your car–like a drive-through graduation–and the teachers were there yelling ‘yay!’ It was, like, a 30-second thing.

There were a ton of small things that I was, like, ‘oh, I’ll do that this year,’ you know, my last year. There was this dodgeball tournament that we already had planned and signed up for, a basketball three-on-three tournament. Stupid traditions–like on the second to last day you sign everyone’s shirts. The last week of school, this isn’t a school promoted event, but we all have front pockets on our uniforms and everyone rips them off, like, kind of attacks you and rips off your ‘frocket.’ That’s fun. Stuff like that.

Christopher Arce

Franklin D. Roosevelt High School

I’m currently planning to go to Texas A&M at Commerce. Before the epidemic, I did have an internship at Thomson Reuters, but they canceled the offer.

I’ll be studying mass media and journalism. At A&M, they offer advertising along with it, and film, so I’m interested more in that side. I’ve always been interested in recording and doing plays and stuff like that at church, so that triggered me to pursue that major.

As of right now, they emailed us that they’re planning to keep everything regular, everything all in-person still. So, nothing has changed there. I think I’ll still go if it’s all online classes in the fall. I feel like if I don’t go, I feel like I’m just wasting time. I just, I really want to quickly get into the workforce.

The only thing that I’m really sad about is graduation. It was something we kind of worked hard for, like, 13, 14 years. In the end we still graduated–I guess that’s what matters.

Really, the only thing that makes anything special is your friends and family. It would have been fun to have prom and all that stuff. But, I feel like that special thing about graduation and prom and all of that is still there, because my family and friends are still here and still have been close due to social media.

We did a small parade around our school and we could see our friends–through our cars, of course.

Right now I’ve been trying to get some scholarships, because I do need funds to study, and for tuition and housing. And I do social media videos of my dogs. So I do that too, that’s a pastime I can have.

I’m really active at my church, so I plan on increasing my volunteer hours there this summer. But I mean, that’s it. Like, there’s not really much to do in order for me to continue being safe, because I know safety is first and I also have an elderly person at home.

Nirisha Eppalapalli

Uplift North Hills Preparatory

Courtesy of Nirisha Eppalapalli
Courtesy of Nirisha Eppalapalli
Courtesy of Nirisha Eppalapalli

I was planning on going to the University of Texas at Arlington, and that’s still my plan. I’m a first generation student, so nobody in my family has the proper guidance to give me about how to pick a major and stuff. So, it’s really just been me thinking during my first semester that I’m gonna figure out what I want to do. But then I realized there are students, like a lot of my friends, who are interns at local hospitals are still working during the pandemic to help scribe, just because it’s necessary and nobody else can do it right now. Usually there’s someone else other than high school interns and college interns to do it, but there’s nobody else because of the pandemic. So, I realized I need to be more cognizant of how I’m picking my major.

I don’t want to pay a full tuition if I’m not even going to go on campus…The problem is, I lose my scholarship completely if I don’t go. So, any money that I could be getting to make college easier to pay, I’m gonna lose, and then I don’t have a guarantee that I’m going to get that money back or that opportunity back. So, I kind of don’t have a choice other than starting university, even if it’s online, but it makes it difficult because I’m paying so much money, but I’m not having the experience.

After staying at home and after seeing how hard essential workers are working, and how important it is to have a practicing healthcare system–and a lot of people don’t have access to the healthcare necessary to heal or recover from coronavirus–it’s really important to me to be somewhere in healthcare management, or somewhere on this side of policy, and make sure that healthcare is provided to all and it’s accessible.

So, I did a thesis project for one of these projects I did for a scholarship on the importance of healthcare in rural areas. For every rural area there’s probably one hospital to 32 in a metropolitan area, and those hospitals hold five times less people, so it’s really important to be able to provide healthcare, especially during a pandemic. I want to make sure I go into something where I can do that.

Logan Mook

Booker T. Washington High School

Schools are really trying to make it enjoyable, because no matter what, it will be different.

Graduation is not going to be the same as it was. Those traditions, those rites of passage, they just can’t happen when you’re not in person. And that’s all right. Quite frankly, if the worst thing to happen to me because of COVID is that I don’t get to sit in a room and have a graduation ceremony, I’m doing pretty well, because a lot of people are having this–the repercussions hit them a lot worse.

The thing I am most worried about personally, not related to the economy or the aftershock of this, is right now colleges are sayin they’re going to be doing online-only courses. I expect wholeheartedly that we will not be doing in-person college next year. I think both semesters will be online. But, unless there’s a significant discount to college, I personally don’t want to pay full tuition for an online course. I think that’s unfair.

I’m not a pessimist, but I try to be a realist. So, because I don’t think college will happen–I was going to go to Pratt for Film in Brooklyn–so that’s New York, not exactly the best place to be right now.

Over the next year, I’m probably going to remain here in Dallas as opposed to going to school. That’s been really a bummer, coming to grips with that and accepting the fact that this will not go as I planned. But I figured i’m going to stay here and while I can, while we have this indoor downtime, I want to do something useful. So next year I’m going to learn how to program. I think that’s a nice fallback, it’s decently recession-proof.

Paige Quillen

Granbury High School

I’m part of the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra and have been for two seasons now. Recently, I found out that I was accepted to Juilliard, which is really exciting, and I’m really excited to go. But Juilliard is located in Manhattan, New York City, so right now it’s up in the air about where that’s gonna go. There’s a big group chat right now and we’re all just hoping for the best.

My plan was to head out to New York City, and I was even planning on heading out a little early to try to get a job, work a bit before school, but New York City is having a rough time with the coronavirus.

Juilliard specifically has not announced whether there will be online classes in the fall. Governor Cuomo has said some things about trying to open schools next year, like NYU, but I think it’s essential for Juilliard because it’s hard for a music school to be open long distance.

The Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra stopped having rehearsals right before corona hit in March, and we’d just finished up a concert season, so luckily we ended on a high note. But they canceled our last concert and our side-by-side with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

It’s hard to think about, because you spend so much time with those people. With music, especially, you’re coming together to make one sound, and you have to get to know everybody. So many people I’m never going to see again, and it’s kind of insane.

My horn section, the six of us, we’re very close. We call a lot, we have a group chat, try to keep in touch and make sure everybody’s doing okay.

I mean, already having to leave home, Texas to New York–that’s a huge gap, going that far. That’s already hard. And then, knowing that there’s a virus there that’s taken down a lot of the population in the city, it’s just, it’s a little heartbreaking. Especially hearing from some friends that are reconsidering completely about going and doing what they had planned on doing since they were a kid. I don’t think I ever will. Even throughout this, I’ll still stick with Juilliard–it’s just always been me.

There are a lot of people out there who are like, ‘am I practicing for nothing?’ Seeing some of the orchestras shut down–DSO, for example, they can’t have any of their concerts. It’s hard to think about what it would be like if we were in their shoes and we went through this whole career path, only to end up without a job because of a virus. I think in any case, it’s scary to any profession.

I know, for me, I’ve had some really nasty breakdowns over the past few months. [High school is] just over, you know? It hasn’t hit yet, but I know it will. I think it’s just something we’re going to have to get used to over time. I was talking to my dad about it the other day. You go, and you work so hard in school, and then, to have nothing to celebrate that accomplishment is heartbreaking. But you get over it. It’s like turning eight and not having a birthday party. It’s gonna suck, but I know we’re going to live through it.

Corey O’Neal

Franklin D. Roosevelt High School

After graduation, I’m going to pursue my film career. I’m going to UNT to major in Film and see where it takes me.

I always used to make videos on my phone, like making little skits. I finally worked up to getting a camera [freshman year of high school] and I’ve been filming ever since, really.

I know a lot of people that went to UNT so they were doing their work online and everything, but it seems like nobody’s sure if we’re going to go back to campus or how long this is going to happen. Hopefully [soon], because I want a hands-on experience, I want the real experience.

I just looked up ‘colleges that have a film major in Texas’ and I saw UNT is not that far, and I know a lot of people there.

[I want to] live on campus. I’m just trying to get the whole experience. [If it were online only classes,] I would just wait. Because, I mean, if that’s the case, if I’m just going to be doing online work, I’d rather be doing something else, you know? I wanted to go to college so I can have that hands-on experience and to network with people, so I can meet people. If I’m on my computer all day doing work, I’m not–that’s pointless. I’m not able to build those relationships in the career that I’m going to. So, I’d just wait.

We went up to school like a week ago, got our caps and gowns, they took a video of us switching the tassels on our caps. But I mean, it’s still stuff, like, we didn’t have prom and stuff like that. I don’t know. The senior activities we can’t do because of quarantine.

We didn’t get to do none of that. No prom, no senior activities, no graduation.

For me, I just have a get-together with my family with our virtual graduation and everything. But that’s pretty much it.

We all follow each other on social media and everybody has nothing else to do so I see people on Instagram all day just doing stuff, so it’s not like you never see nobody. You rarely see people in person because everybody’s inside.

That day that we went up to get our caps and gowns from the school, that’s when I saw everybody, that was cool, but that was for a short amount of time anyway. We had masks and everything.

I’ve been doing interviews lately, like with local artists, so I’ve been just building that up; doing interviews, doing YouTube videos, but not actually doing any short films. But I’ve been doing a lot of interviews. Most of the time it’s just me and that person, or me, that person, and another person, so it’s not a big gathering. So I’ve been interviewing a lot of people, living, building that up in case college is on lockdown, then I can still have a good career to fall back on at the same time.

After I certify my name in Dallas, I want to just keep moving around. I’m originally from New Orleans so I should get down there too, build my name up, and just travel with it. Working on my career so, by the time I do go to college, I’ll know more people to take it to the next level.

I’m doing interviews, trying to get my communications skills better and ask better questions.

Madeleine Whiteley

Uplift North Hills Preparatory

I play competitive softball, so I’ve played softball since I was like four or five. I committed to a college in North Carolina called Campbell University, and I signed to play softball for their collegiate team. This whole year–I committed my sophomore year–I’ve just been preparing for stepping foot on campus next year.

I was worried about it at the beginning because there were talks about us starting college online in the fall, which was not something I was looking forward to. I love my family, I love the opportunities I’ve had with them. But having the opportunity to go to North Carolina, to discover myself, to discover new things, make new friends, go on a new adventure–that’s something I was really looking forward to, and hopefully that opportunity is still able to happen in the fall, which I think it is.

I don’t think that [online classes] would affect my decision, because, as an athlete, I’ve considered Campbell University to be my future home since I was a sophomore.

I think Krispy Kreme, they have some sort of thing where you can get a free dozen doughnuts if you’re a 2020 graduate. That’s tomorrow, so we’ll be driving in separate cars to pick up our doughnuts and I think that we’re going to sit in a parking lot and eat our doughnuts, just to have some sort of conclusion to our high school experience. Even though it’s just doughnuts and sitting in a parking lot, it’s something that we can do where we can still be face to face but still safe at the same time.

I finished my last assignment and I emailed it to my teacher and then I texted her and I was like, this whole year I’ve been like, I don’t want to go to school anymore, I can’t wait to be done, I don’t want to wake up and go to class. I’d just drag through the day. This whole staying at home and not being able to go see my teachers and sit through my long, and what I used to think were boring, classes–this has made me appreciate all those things, all those people I was around, and just that experience.

Sometimes I hated going to school, but this made me feel like I should’ve appreciated it more. Looking back, I did love all the late nights and all the hard situations I had to face going to North Hills and being around teachers that had to push me.

Kenijah Austin

Franklin D. Roosevelt High School

Courtesy of Kenijah Austin
Courtesy of Kenijah Austin
Courtesy of Kenijah Austin

At first I was going into the military, to the US Navy. But after everything that was going on, there was a ship in the Navy that had coronavirus on the ship, and that kind of concerned me and my family a little bit. Everybody was just like, I’d be better off going to college until everything calms down, because if I’m so far, I can’t come home if something like that was to happen to me because I’m on a contract. So, I decided to go to college.

I’ll be attending Langston University in Oklahoma.

I had to make the decision to be physically independent or financially stable. I just felt like the money will always come, so I feel like college is going to teach me more independence. I also want to keep up with my class. Class of 2024 would be my college graduating year, and I know what I’m going to be after college, so I want to go ahead and get started with it now, even if it’s online.

I’ll be studying elementary education and teaching. My job in the military was totally different–interior communication. It’s like working with phones, alarms, TVs on the ship, basically so everyone can communicate with each other.

I’d still join the military, but after I go to college. I have some scholarships right now that I’m using for college, so that kind of affected me going to college, too, because I just didn’t want it to go to waste. I worked so hard, I might as well use the scholarships.

High school kind of ended funny, because the last day we were supposed to go to school was senior skip day. We were all supposed to get together, but nobody actually got together, so we didn’t get to see each other that day. We haven’t seen each other since then, but we’ve kept in contact on social media. Hopefully, one day, we can have a get together and all see each other.

Honestly, I feel like we haven’t learned nothing the last couple months. It was like, they’d put an assignment, I’d work hard to finish it, but now, people are telling me they didn’t even do the work and they still graduated. I’m just like, I was trying to work hard to finish that way! They weren’t teaching, it was just assignments.

A lot of things that other classes got to experience, we didn’t get a chance. It’s just not traditional. It’s something different.

Zaina Syed

Uplift North Hills Preparatory

Courtesy of Zaina Syed.

I graduated pretty recently. I submitted my last couple of assignments and it was really jarring, because I’ve been going to North Hills for the past three years, and before that, I was homeschooled and moved around a bunch. But this fall, hopefully I’ll be going to UTD for biology, so that’ll be pretty cool. I wish I could have gotten to go somewhere else, but I mean UTD was pretty close and affordable, so it was the best option in terms of availability and being financially responsible.

I’ll be studying biology and I’ll be going on the pre-med track. I mean, I was kind of worried about, I don’t know, second guessing it. And I saw all the stuff happening right now with the coronavirus and how all these doctors are being overworked and really, in some cases, really treated like crap, almost, by their patients. But, if anything, it really makes me want to work harder because I feel like there’s so many people that their deaths and their sickness could have been avoided. I think that there’s so much awareness that still needs to be raised in our local communities about what we can do as individuals.

I kind of wish I did plan to live on campus, but no, I was planning on commuting. That is why I had to choose UTD, just because it’s so close. My parents are so close by and I’m their oldest daughter, so, for them, it’s really hard to let me go. I think, for an Indian family, it’s really hard to let go of that stigma, their daughter is going off to college but she still needs to be here.

I don’t think that I would delay my college education if I could, but I absolutely hate online classes. It’s so hard for me to focus if things are on screen. So, online learning for me is definitely a lot more difficult, but I think if it absolutely came to that for college education at least my freshman year, I think I could definitely like suck it up and do it. But I definitely wouldn’t enjoy it as much as going on campus and having that college feel.

I think it’s especially interesting how so many of us have turned to technology in these past few months. Like, so many things that we have the ability to do, like, you know, there’s books, there’s other things that we can do. I’ve recently taken up baking–I’m not amazing at it but I’m trying to get better. But I think that what we’ve really lacked in these last couple of months is face to face communication, which I think we really took for granted before this really started.

Maggie Clemmons

Richland High School

I plan to do a year at community college to get my associate’s while I’m ahead, and then transfer to a university to get my master’s. In high school, I took dual credit classes so I already have 21 college hours. DISD students get their first year at community college free, so I’m going to do that and get my associate’s.

Right now I have a few online classes. I hope that we can move to the school, but I have a feeling they’re going to keep it closed.

Right now we’re paying–kids are paying–to go to a university that they can’t even stay at because they’re all closed.

Our prom was canceled officially. They were supposed to move it closer to summer, but they came to the conclusion that it was just too many people, and it won’t work out. I was honestly very upset. I had the perfect dress. I was so excited for my senior prom. Everybody is bummed out.

We went to a big park and we laid out towels and sat far apart on a basketball court. We brought our lunches and hung out for a little bit. But it’s just not the same as going to school and actually hanging out.

We also had a senior parade, where we could all decorate our cars, and we drove around the school for the last time and all the teachers showed up and they were placed around the school as we went through the parking lots, to say bye.

I personally work best in a classroom with everybody else. Getting actual instruction, face to face from your teacher, is always better than online. I feel like being online, it just took away from all social aspects and relationships that I’ve had with my classmates and my teachers. To have that taken away after being used to it for 12 year, kind of took a toll on my learning. I feel like it just wasn’t the same.

Knowing that this could have been possible at any time really changes how we all think about everything. So now, like I feel like even for me. If I want to do something, I know I need to just do it and not wait or hesitate because it can be taken away so easily in a short amount of time.


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