Class of 2021: I'm a senior, but I don't feel like it. COVID put making memories on hold.

By Natalie Aguilar via USA Today


Natalie Aguilar in Los Angeles in May 2021.


When I was a freshman three years ago I helped my friend Jesus make a prom proposal.

We spelled out “P R O M ?” on big pieces of posterboard that his friends held up right outside school just as the dismissal bell rang. Jesus stood next to them with a big bunch of flowers while “This Magic Moment” blasted out of a speaker. I watched his girlfriend as she opened the door and saw it all and cried in front of half the school, then accepted the flowers and hugged Jesus.

I couldn’t help imagining myself being in her shoes. I wondered where and how it would happen, what song would be playing, and what it would all feel like.

I thought a lot about being a senior while I was a freshman and it helped me get through all the adjustments to high school. My friends and I watched the class of 2018. They acted like the ran the school. They disobeyed teachers and the hall monitor and seemed to flout any rule they didn’t like, including the school uniform. They left campus and came back with Carl’s Jr. and Starbucks. Their friendships with each other seemed deep and lasting and meaningful. They stressed about money and college. They cursed the colleges that turned them down and proudly wore sweatshirts from the one they were going to attend. Most of all, they seemed to be making everything special. This was their year and they were making memories they would never forget.

I couldn’t wait to be one of them. It felt like it would take forever to get where they were.

I forget this is supposed to be special
In a way that proved true — way more than I could have realized. Me and the rest of the class of 2021, we are seniors but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

For us, sleeping till 8:00 isn’t flexing our senior muscles. Everyone can do it. Open our eyes, turn on the computer and log into a screen with the teacher talking from a tiny rectangle.

There are no hallways to rule. No freshmen or sophomores to impress.

Senior activities — obliterated. Along with all the other school activities. No senior breakfast, no senior sunrise, no senior ditch day, no prom, no grad night. Our leadership class tried to create some school fun but “Movie Night” and “Game Night” on Zoom hasn’t really inspired any of us and sure hasn’t done much to salvage our hopeless senior year.

Sometimes I forget I even am a senior. I share a wifi signal with four younger siblings and try not to be distracted by the cacophony of their classes and try to stay focused on my classes while I help them with theirs. I haven’t had much time to worry about what I’m missing out on. Not since my dad lost his job and our family’s only source of income. My school may not have been able to give me a prom but they gave our family food and other resources to keep going. I’ll always be grateful for that.

On the bright side, I got to “visit” (virtually) all the colleges I wanted to apply to, something I could never have afforded to do in person.

My friends and I are still hoping for an in-person graduation of some kind so we can at least say our goodbyes through masks.

I guess we have gotten to make some memories. Mostly they are the memories we made while we were waiting for our chance to make the real ones. I suppose there is a lesson in that.

Natalie Aguilar is an honor student and high school senior in South Los Angeles. She will graduate in June having already earned an Associate of Arts degree from community college and will attend University of California, Irvine in the fall.