The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed what a “normal” school experience is supposed to look like, particularly for high school seniors, who missed out on the many quintessential events of their final year of childhood. The high case rate in NYC meant that last year’s seniors, especially those in public schools, were unable to have even a restricted prom or in-person graduation. As a member of the class of 2020, I was dismayed at the loss of events I’d waited four years for, but understood that it was necessary to prevent the spread of sickness. However, as more people get vaccinated and NYC’s restrictions relax, things are looking up for this year’s seniors. Whether it’s an official event or a student-organized gathering, many schools are planning end-of-year celebrations, most commonly prom.
Bard High School Early College Manhattan (BHSEC), located by the East River on S. Houston St., is one school that is planning an in-person prom for this year. With a senior class of fewer than 200, there was less COVID concern than there would have been for a larger class. The class size also made BHSEC’s prom easier to organize, as there was a much smaller chance of anyone getting left out. Usually, the school’s administration organizes prom, but this year, it was planned by a group of parents, who were able to rent a venue and raise enough money for all related costs. Information was passed along to students through both word of mouth and social media, which has proven incredibly effective to raise awareness about events like this.
That students and parents took the initiative to plan what is technically an unofficial prom points to the fact that BHSEC, like many other schools, does not feel comfortable directly hosting a large in-person event just yet. Even as schools return to in-person classes and vaccines become available for younger children, the smallest possibility of an outbreak means that most school administration remains unwilling to sponsor large gatherings.
Yet the school has not explicitly condemned the prom, despite it being fairly common knowledge among students and on social media. This marks a shift from administration being adamant against gatherings toward an awkward middle ground, in which admin recognize and condone gatherings but aren’t able to give their full support due to legal concerns.
BHSEC’s sister school, BHSEC Queens, also sits in this area, with a student-organized prom utilizing social media for awareness and parents for payment. The seniors at both schools have worked hard to make these events happen, planning for financial aid, location confusions, and dress code complications – all things that their school’s administration usually handles. While prom is traditionally a carefree experience, the responsibility these students took on makes this year’s prom truly represent a shift into adulthood.
Other schools have taken more direct action to facilitate in-person events. In Manhattan, Beacon High School recently hosted prom in Midtown, while LaGuardia and Hunter have had in-person graduations. Columbia Prep, a private school in upper Manhattan, had both prom and graduation in-person without masks, highlighting the looser restrictions private schools deal with by not answering to the DOE.
Stuyvesant High School, located in Tribeca, has a student body of almost 3,500, making any unofficial event nightmarish to organize. The school’s administration, working with the student government, was able to plan an in-person graduation for the class of 2021. The fears of an outbreak are shown in the extensive safety precautions, which include mandatory masking, vaccine/negative COVID test proof, and an option to live-stream the ceremony instead of attending in person. In an effort to mitigate disappointment, the cost to attend graduation will be free.
While Stuyvesant’s senior prom preparations– mainly organized by students through Facebook – are also underway, the school’s traditional junior prom will not be held this year. Deciding between which events can happen and which must be sacrificed has been a common occurrence since the beginning of the pandemic, and something that hasn’t gotten much easier, especially for students hoping to experience them.
Yet this year’s seniors have proven their resilience in not only dealing with canceled events, but planning make-up ones. Seeing them work together to organize what are usually exhausting, overwhelming events fills me with admiration and confidence that they’re going to do just fine out of high school. Regrettably, my class – the class of 2020 – was unable to plan any events last year due to the pandemic’s severity, but I don’t begrudge this year’s fortune. The end of this month is going to be filled with celebrations for a class of students who’ll get their well-deserved break before entering the world of adulthood.
Seeing this year’s seniors work together to organize what are usually exhausting, overwhelming events fills me with admiration and confidence that they’re going to do just fine out of high school.