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The New York Times

‘We feel lost in time’: COVID transforms teenage milestones

Growing up, Carley Ebbenga used to not throw big birthday parties. Since her birthday falls right in the middle of the winter break, most of the kids weren’t in town, so she settled for small celebrations. But for her Sweet Sixteen, Ebbenga, who lives in Romeoville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, wanted to do something special. She envisioned a trip to the city with a few friends where they would have a nice dinner and stay up late dancing in their hotel room. The pandemic, of course, thwarted his plans. Ebbenga made the most of it. She invited two of her closest friends to a bonfire in her backyard. They ate chili prepared by Ebbenga’s mother and danced around the fire while drinking hot chocolate. The small group also held a “fire ceremony” in which they had notebooks and pens to write “the deepest and saddest things”, read them aloud and then burn the slips of paper in the fire. . Ebbenga had the idea to watch one of her favorite YouTubers, The Purple Palace, who made a hot video of things she wanted to give up. Sign up for the New York Times The Morning newsletter Much of what Ebbenga wrote were those things she missed during the pandemic like a Sweet Sixteen or “Lost Laughing Nights This Year” and “attending at my first art exhibition. “It really feels good to directly watch the fire burn,” she said. When the pandemic lockdowns began last spring, high school students in the Class of 2020 realized pretty quickly that they would miss their mark. promises and began to create new ways to mark their diplomas. But few younger teens could have imagined that their lives would still be so limited by the pandemic a year later. Indeed, with different rules across the country , the children have had extremely varied experiences: some schools operate in person and have balls as usual, while for others, spring 2021 is not that different from last year. more classic teenagers like Sweet Sixteens, prom and graduation have been interrupted or canceled entirely, these children have had to turn their losses into opportunities, forging new traditions s with friends. When third year was supposed to be ‘your’ year “It’s hard to accept the fact that we’ve been told over the past three years, ‘Oh, just go to your senior year; it’s going to be awesome. You’ll have so much fun and it’s a lot easier, ”said Julia Weber, a senior in Athens, Ohio. “Now we go to school from our rooms without any fun.” The missed milestone she is most disappointed with is not having the opportunity to visit college campuses in person. “It’s really hard to make such a big decision with a Zoom tour or just literally photos you found on Google of campus,” she said. Amaya Wangeshi, 17, of Justin, Texas, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, noticed an existential feeling among her friends. “We feel lost in time,” the high school student said, speaking philosophically about his experience. “It seems that time passes through us rather than we travel through time. It’s a strange limb. Like Ebbenga, she also missed a special celebration of her 16th birthday last year. “My 16th birthday has passed and I haven’t done anything,” she said. “It was a shock because it’s just one of those things you think about when you’re little. Because of the media, everyone says, “Sixteen, sixteen, sixteen”. It’s supposed to be such a big deal. Getting his driver’s license was another rite of passage that didn’t go as planned. The DMV closures in Texas forced her to wait almost a year to take her test. “It was really frustrating,” Wangeshi said. “It sounds childish, but I think a lot of people are watching their lives hitting certain milestones. It’s just a natural tendency in the way we sort time and also in the way we view success as well. New traditions – despite disappointments Although he was not as late as Wangeshi’s, Tommy Sinclair, 17, of Worthington, Ohio, had to wait several months to get his driver’s license. However, as a member of her school’s theater repertoire program, reinventing a musical was a bigger hurdle. Instead of playing “Annie” in front of a live audience, Sinclair’s school chose to film the year’s productions and sell tickets online for virtual viewings on YouTube. “It’s so different not performing in front of an audience,” said Sinclair, who noted that wearing masks, while necessary, was a challenge because the actors couldn’t show facial expressions. “It takes away some of the fun, but it’s also a lot better than doing nothing at all.” Ebbenga also had to adapt when it comes to his (now virtual) spring musical. For many students like her, keeping traditions alive in 2021 means finding creative workarounds. In pre-pandemic times, the cast and crew at Ebbenga’s Drama Club tied their arms in a ritual called a “circle” a few minutes before each show started. Individuals take turns speaking, whether it’s sharing words of encouragement or sentimental memories. This year, they plan to do a “circle” on a Zoom call with everyone in front of the camera. “We have to keep this tradition alive because it is the essence of our theater club,” Ebbenga said. Sinclair, who sits on his school’s student council, is currently working hard to make his graduation party as “COVID-friendly as possible,” which includes separating participants into groups and organizing events. ‘activities in different parts of the school, such as dancing. in the gym, photo booths in the hallways, a movie shown in a section and a cotton candy machine. For other students, school dances and social events are not an option. But that didn’t stop them from wanting to make new memories during this largely disappointing year. Some parents take matters into their own hands by planning unofficial promises that are not affiliated with their school. Because her prom was canceled, 18-year-old Ianne Salvosa of Lake St. Louis, Missouri, is cooking up her own version with friends. “A lot of people just buy dresses, take pictures, and go out to dinner with their friends, which I try to do,” she says. Goodbye Prom, Hello Picnics For Weber, hosting small, socially distant bonfires was a way to reunite with friends she hadn’t seen “in months, if not a year.” “Obviously it’s not necessarily a milestone, but I think in this incredibly uneventful year – from a school’s perspective – that’s going to be what I’m looking back at and I’m like, ‘Oh, c “was the biggest social event: sitting at a fire with three people in my backyard,” Weber said. Ebbenga plans to incorporate backyard bonfires in future hangouts with friends, even after they’re all vaccinated, which is quickly becoming a reality for teens as more states open up. their eligibility conditions. “It’s really sweet,” she said. “Everyone’s out and cold, but we’ve got blankets and we’re together and that’s what makes it the best.” Salvosa has organized outdoor sushi picnics with his friends so they have more space to keep their distance. Another way for her to stay connected with friends, maintain a sense of normalcy, and form new traditions is to watch movies together using Teleparties, a browser extension that allows people to use movies together. streaming television services. Salvosa and his friends use the chat feature to add comments in real time. And thanks to outdoor team sports like lacrosse and cross country, many student athletes were still able to compete safely and rooted in each other. While this ultimately isn’t the year these kids wanted, it’s a year no one will forget. “It’s just knowing that I had to go through something that’s going on in the history books that other kids are going to have to learn in the future,” Sinclair said. “It’s just weird. It’s definitely not the high school experience I expected. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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