These Four Young Kansas Citians Are Planning Their Futures In The Pandemic Era
The coronavirus caused graduations to be canceled from middle school to medical school. In this story from our series The Next Normal, four students share how they feel about being robbed of the relief and joy that should accompany this time in their lives.
For many, a graduation is the first major life event worth marking with ritual. But as the coronavirus pandemic gripped Kansas City this spring, stay-at-home orders meant schools didn't reopen and graduation ceremonies were delayed or moved online.
These four young people, high school students, a recent graduate from high school and another from college, face uncertainty at a time they expected to be paving the path to their futures.
Faith Andrews: "It all feels kind of overwhelming."
Faith Andrews feels like no part of her life has been spared the impact of coronavirus.
She was a senior at St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, when classes went virtual in March.
“It was basically like after Spring Break, we’re going to come back in mid-April, so I wasn’t that worried about it,” she says.
Of course, they never went back to school.
Not only did she despise online learning, but seniors missed out on all the graduation rituals.
There’s Class Day. Seniors show up in their cap and gowns. The whole school watches an audio slide show of each girl’s high school career.
There’s the day seniors show up in their college shirts and write their school names on a special wall.
As senior class president, Andrews was in charge of prom. They’d done all the heavy lifting and were starting to work on the fun parts, the theme and the decorations.
“I had Zoom meetings one or two times with the other class officers to say ‘OK, I think we’re back on track, so let’s start thinking about what it’s going to look like,’”she says.
Prom was postponed. Then it was canceled.
So was her trip to visit Columbia University, her dream school. But the reality of moving to New York City without ever having been there was becoming frightening and real.
“You can’t see the stars. There isn’t any driving,” she says. “I don’t know how to ride the train so I’m going to have to learn that. I’m not going to be walking to the grocery store and seeing my cousin.”
Family is everything to Andrews. Some of aunts recently had babies. She expected to spend lots of time with them before she left, but that isn’t happening because of the virus.
“The thought of these new babies, just seeing me sometimes and not really knowing me, not wanting to run up and hug me,” she says as she chokes up. “It just gets overwhelming.”
Then the summer brought another unexpected turn of events with the killing of George Floyd.
Andrews, who is Black, has always known her politics are more liberal than many of her friends. But it didn’t matter. She was able to separate politics from personalities.
Then she saw some of the racist things her white friends were posting on social media.
“In times like these you have to say ‘OK, if this is really how you feel and these are the people you’d like to support, you can’t be in my life,” she explains. “Because you don’t respect me to understand how it’s unacceptable when it’s literally life or death."
Jordan Hall: "I'm nervous all the time."
Jordan Hall's long-term goal is to work in Washington, D.C., as a staffer on a Congressional committee or in the intelligence community. After graduating, he was planning to move to D.C. and get a job or internship. That plan is indefinitely on hold.
“I’d started that process but now everyone is telling me ‘We’re just not hiring,'" Hall says at a local coffee shop.
The 24-year-old is tall, with a fashionable head of black hair and tortoise shell glasses. He lays one knee flat on the metal chair bringing his foot to the other thigh. He stretches his back from time to time and bends his neck to one side then the other until it cracks. Hall was laid off from his job at a rock climbing gym when it closed down due to the pandemic. He says some people are finding outdoor climbing spaces to maintain their rock-climbing chops. He hasn’t found the energy to do that.
“It’s frustrating,” he says. “I find myself napping a lot. I try not to think about [the uncertainty] but it hits me usually around the middle of the day. I get stomach pains. This is the time I should be planning what I’m going to do when I graduate and I can’t do anything. I’m just nervous all the time.”
He’s living at home with his parents and at least for now is thinking he’ll stay there and commute to his last term of classes in the fall. It’s unclear if he’ll be in a classroom, on line or a hybrid of both. He’s not comfortable going out with the virus still raging and anyway, many of his friends have already graduated.
Hall tries to be optimistic and focus on the positive, like what he'll remember about this time as he looks back 10 years from now.
“I did start to foster some dogs, like a lot of people, and I adopted one,” he says. “I hope I’ll remember all the fun times I’ve had with my dogs.”
LaNya Meade: "I applied to so many jobs."
LaNya Meade, 16, has to think a moment when you ask her what she thinks the next normal will be over her next few months, even the next few years.
“Frustrating, confusing and hard,” she sighs. “Everything just seems hard.”
Meade will be a junior at Wyandotte High School this fall. She’s president of the student council, a former debater and accustomed to multiple extracurricular activities. She is gregarious and thrives on collaboration and structure.
“I don’t like not being productive,” she says at an outdoor Kansas City, Kansas, cafe. “I like being really busy.”
The first hard thing about this year was going to school online. The lack of structure. Not having face-to-face conversations with her teachers.
“I ended up dropping [calculus] because I was getting a D,” she says. “I don’t get bad grades, but I felt like I didn’t have anybody to talk to because our teacher was very busy. My mom tried to help me but she took calculus a long time ago and doesn’t remember. It was very stressful.”
Meade had received a scholarship to visit some historically Black colleges and universities this summer. Because of the pandemic, the trip was canceled. For as long as she can remember, she’s wanted to go to one of these schools.
“My mom wants me to apply to some state schools, which I will,” she says. “But I want to go to Howard University or Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.”
Then she wants to go to medical school to become a plastic surgeon.
As soon as she knew the trip was off, she wanted to start working to save up as much money as possible. It took her two months to find a job.
“I applied to SO many jobs,” she said. “McDonald's, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Jack In The Box, Target."
Finally she got an interview at a Walmart near The Legends.
“I make $11 an hour so it’s pretty good,” she says. “But I see how COVID has affected many others. I’ve noticed at Walmart, almost everyone is using [public assistance] because they’ve lost jobs and can’t afford to buy things.”
As she talks about how life might look different going forward, Meade moves seamlessly between the pandemic and the recent protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Because they’re both happening at the same time and because [people] don’t have anything to do and are looking back and seeing the injustices,” she says. “I do feel the pandemic has helped Black Lives Matter because it’s given us time to say [police brutality] was wrong, but we didn’t see it because we were so busy in our day-to-day lives.”
Eddie Kuklenski: "It’s eerie not knowing what’s next."
There’s been one silver lining from the pandemic for Eddie Kuklenski.
The lawn service company he has with his brother got an unexpected boost.
“Our lawn work has been booming,” Kuklenski says. “We’ve been raking in the dough in March and April, so that was nice.”
But Kuklenski, 16, says the severity of COVID-19 outbreak was a surprise to him and his friends.
At first, he says they didn’t take it seriously. School officials told them the day before they were to leave for spring break they’d hopefully come back to school when break ended, but it was unclear.
“Obviously, we didn’t,” he says. ‘”It became this global pandemic we’ll be reading about in history books, like the plague or something. It’s pretty unbelievable what we’re all going through right now.”
Kuklenski’s summer took a dramatic shift because of the shut downs.
He had a mission trip to Tennessee to build houses that was canceled.
He had tickets to a few concerts — not happening.
Now it’s about what happens in the fall.
“My online learning didn’t go so well,” says the rising junior. “I wasn’t motivated. Also, I’m really looking forward to playing hockey in the winter.”
Kuklenski watched his brother miss out on all the senior year activities and is thinking about what’s ahead for him. He’s facing an important year: college entrance exams, maybe trips to look at schools outside the area. Will these things even happen?
“It's scary," he says. “I kind of try to keep it off my mind, but when it creeps in it just feels eerie, not knowing what will happen next.”