Jordan Leeson had her sights set on class of 2020 valedictorian. She pictured herself giving her speech in a full auditorium in front of her friends and family.
Instead, the Fort Saskatchewan teen stood in front of a computer with her virtual message streamed over her school’s Facebook page.
It was not how Leeson wanted to end high school.
“What I found the most difficult was not getting to say goodbye to friends and teachers and classmates you spent the last four years with,” said Leeson. “Driving by your teachers and giving them a five second wave wasn’t sufficient enough.”
Leeson also had plans to move to Montreal for her first year at McGill University.
She was accepted in the biomedical program and was looking forward to having her own place, meeting new friends and practicing French.
“It’s difficult having the same independence when you’re still living with your parents, still at home.”
Leeson has been taking her classes online from her home in Fort Saskatchewan.
“I never imagined I’d be doing labs in my kitchen.”
She was hopeful the pandemic restrictions would be loosened by Christmas and she’d still be able to make the move to Quebec.
“But I’m still at home,” said Leeson. “It never got to happen. I’m hopeful in the fall I’ll finally get the opportunity to move to Montreal.”
Leeson said for the most part, her classes are well organized and her instructors are doing a great job, but added there are often technical issues that come with online learning.
For her, it’s the life outside of the classroom she has missed out on with those first-time experiences shelved.
“I know myself personally, I feel like I’m not making progress forward. Like the plan is you’re an adult now, you’re moving out, you’re doing all these new things and you’re kind of at a pause because this is the same life I was living a year ago.”
It’s the same feeling for Ethan and Aidan Boey. The Stony Plain, Alta., twins also graduated last June. They said once in-person classes came to a halt last March, they felt like they were stuck in high school limbo.
“For it to stop so suddenly, then kind of have to grow up… I just found it very difficult,” said Ethan.
“I feel like we’re going to have to play catch-up,” added Aidan.
The Boeys said they didn’t want to attend university or college online, but had hoped to gain more life experience by now.
Dr. Allyson Harrison, an associate professor in the psychology department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., wrote an article on how to help high school seniors cope with missed milestones.
Harrison, also the clinical director of the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre at Queen’s University, said she didn’t expect the 2021 high school grads would be faced with the same situation.
“I didn’t think here we’d be almost a year later saying, ‘Boy, we’re right back where we started.’
“My concern for many of the students I’ve been seeing for counselling… is they’re still living at home, in their old bedroom. So it’s very easy to stay the child in the house.”
Harrison said the cancelled graduation ceremonies, the sports championships that may have led to scholarships and lost opportunities for summer jobs matter. The developmental milestones help shape teens into young adults.
“A lot of them just haven’t been able to do the things that help feed their soul… and could potentially help them with a career down the road.
“This is not what they signed up for.”
Harrison said parents can help.
Honour achievements (even if virtually)
Harrison said it’s important to recognize accomplishments and special occasions. She said a virtual party with loved ones to reinforce what they mean to everyone will help boost confidence.
Encourage tangible accomplishments
With school and other activities online, Harrison stressed it’s important for young adults to feel like they accomplished something at the end of the day — even something as small as a puzzle.
Don’t jump in to fix things
This is a big one for Harrison. She said if parents are asked to help that’s fine, but parents “hovering” sends the message that they don’t think their child or loved ones can cope.
“Start backing off. Give them the chance to figure out how they’re going to deal with this situation.”
Harrison said young adults have already shown they are resilient and if anything, COVID-19 has set them up to be able to deal with other stressful events.
“This has given them an anchor in their life.
“They’ll be able to say, ‘Well the worst thing I ever had to live through was a year of COVID.'”
Leeson is optimistic she can still make up all those missed milestones.
“Eventually you will get the opportunity to move out, you will get to meet those new people, get an apartment — at the end of the day I’m just grateful my family and friends are healthy.”