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Class of 2020: The resilient generation

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 6/1/2020 By Danielle Ivanov, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Dear Class of 2020:

About 3.7 million of you are graduating high school in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. Your prom was canceled, your grandparents can’t watch you walk across the stage and you don’t get to shake hands with your favorite teacher one last time.

But you’ve handled crises your whole life. You were born the year of 9/11. You started elementary school in the 2008 recession. You became the generation of school shootings, and now, COVID-19.

How do you create success during times of so much fear, and what can the rest of us learn from you?

We asked some of your classmates, this year’s valedictorians and salutatorians, to share some advice and words of encouragement from their experiences weathering the pandemic.

Appreciating the small things

Instead of building up anger and frustration over the uncontrollable circumstances COVID-19 caused, these graduates used their extra time to relax and pick up old hobbies.

Kaitlyn Tully, valedictorian at Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale, said she’s been re-kindling her love for calligraphy, water color painting, poetry writing and her favorite — reading for fun.

She devoured “Jane Eyre,” the classic romance by Charlotte Bronte. In the novel, Jane struggles for years to find a place of belonging, peace and satisfaction.

“That theme of feeling trapped is so relatable right now,” Kaitlyn said.

Samantha Sterghos, valedictorian of Piper High School in Sunrise, knows all about feeling trapped. She hasn’t been able to practice diving, much less teach her swim class, since pools closed, she said. Instead, Samantha has been tutoring her third-grade cousin Boston to help him with his homework.

Vincent Shipe, Pompano Beach High School’s 2020 salutatorian, has begun writing science fiction stories as a creative outlet. “I needed a way to just sort of release something,” he said.

Origami has helped occupy Zach Webb, salutatorian at Calvary Christian Academy.

And baking did the same for Sophia Zheng, one of the salutatorians at American Heritage School’s Delray Beach campus. Sophia said she and her friends swap recipes for treats like pastries, banana bread and Oreo cheesecake.

“You never expect that you wouldn’t be able to see your friends every day your last month of senior year,” she said. “But there’s still a space for us.”

Aside from sharing a sweet tooth, she and her classmates have been sending each other “snail mail,” handwritten letters delivered through the postal system.

“I’m really proud of us and how we are finding ways to stay connected,” Sophia said. “Keep staying positive. Keep spreading kindness and love, because the world needs it most now."

With technological wizardry

As members of Generation Z, you’ve known the internet your whole lives. The first iPhone was released when you were 5 years old. Instagram hit 1 billion monthly users your freshman year. All your friends know at least one TikTok dance.

Technology comes naturally to you, so many of you successfully adjusted your screen time during quarantine for socializing and for school.

For Lorena Manasturean, valedictorian at Sheridan Technical High School in Fort Lauderdale, the move to virtual school and socializing was second nature. Her grandparents live in Romania, so she’s used to reaching them by text and video chat, she said.

“Everyone’s been working to have unity so that even though we can’t have contact, we can still stay together,” Lorena said of the online transition. “It’s definitely been a tough time, but we’ve managed pretty well.”

Sivan Ben-David, co-valedictorian at NSU University School in Fort Lauderdale, said she’s relied on Zoom to keep her school play running.

Instead of cancelling the traditional auditorium performance with intricate costumes, set changes and microphones, the actors decided to run an at-home production with clothes and decor from their own closets instead, Sivan said.

“It’s kind of cool to try our take on it,” she said. “Having a sense of urgency in life is so important right now. We just really need to enjoy everything."

And for Sophia Graff, valedictorian of West Boca Raton Community High School, the mix of technology, extra free time and social distancing means she and her friend Nicole Cohen could start the book club they’d been planning.

Each girl orders the chosen book online — they’re debating whether to buy the new Hunger Games novel or not — reads it at home and then calls the other to dissect it. When they’ve both finished, they plan a movie night to simultaneously watch the book’s film adaptation.

“It’s definitely showed us that we can rise up and make a good thing out of a bad situation,” Sophia said.

By looking to the future

Max Wyatt, valedictorian of Olympic Heights Community High School in Boca Raton, said, “Even though [quarantine] has been hard, you have to try to make it positive.”

In lieu of a traditional graduation, Max’s neighborhood set up a street graduation. Seniors stood 6 feet apart at the curb dressed in their caps and gowns or college T-shirts. Parents called their names, and each student crossed the pavement, smiling and sweating under the hot Boca Raton sun.

“Don’t lose hope,” he said, remembering the makeshift celebration fondly. “This is your experience. Keep working to make the best of it that you possibly can.”

South Broward High School valedictorian Timi Adelakun missed out on his senior play -- he was set to perform the role of Billy Flynn in the musical “Chicago” -- and finds it depressingly ironic that he’s been to every graduation but his own -- his theater class always performed a group song. But he said the opportunity to grow is a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even though the ending [of school] was abrupt, I’m still happy," Timi said. “We are the future generation. We can use this time as a learning lesson and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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