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Pequot Lakes seniors, graduates share thoughts on their senior experiences and the COVID-19 pandemic

They have mixed responses to being in high school during a health pandemic

Seniors and Mikaela
From left are Pequot Lakes High School seniors Emma Johnson, Julia Keiffer and Maya Orvis, 2021 PLHS graduate Mikaela Jones and PLHS senior Morgan LaRock.
Megan Buffington / Echo Journal
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PEQUOT LAKES — Current Pequot Lakes High School seniors and last year’s graduates had mixed responses when asked about their senior experience during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eight students, four from the Class of 2021 and four from the Class of 2022, reflected on how living through a pandemic while in high school impacted their senior year.

2020-21 School Year
2021-22 School Year
  • Hybrid online/in-person
  • In-person
  • Masking
  • Brief masking periods
  • Physical distancing
  • Brief physical distancing
  • Limited events and sport attendance
  • All events and full attendance

When asked what the best social part of her senior year has been, senior Maya Orvis said, “Normal high school stuff.”

Other seniors shared a similar positivity and general excitement for the return to normalcy. Emma Johnson said all the teachers are trying to have a good first year post-pandemic.

“After missing out on it in the past years it was fun to be involved,” Julia Keiffer said. “I got to play pep band at homecoming, be a part of coronation and powderpuff and buff and dress up all week and everything felt normal. It was fun to spend time with my friends in a regular way.”

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However, Keiffer said returning to “regular high school again” has been stressful too because it felt unfamiliar after over a year of online and hybrid classes. Other students are also struggling with the return to normal academics.

“This year has been much more difficult,” Morgan LaRock said, “because I am not used to attending class five days a week, seven hours a day.”

While the seniors all had good things to say about their senior experience so far, last year’s graduates had much more mixed reviews.

For some students, like one graduate who chose to remain anonymous, the return to in-person activities, even if different than normal, created a positive atmosphere.

(A teacher) would say something like, ‘We’re living in history right now,’ and that’s cool, but you’re living in history and you’re 35. I’m living in history and this is a year of my life that everyone tells me is supposed to be the best year of my life.

“Everybody in our class went through one thing or another. …when we came into senior year, everybody seemed closer because of that,” the graduate said. “I don’t think there was a single person in our senior class that I couldn’t go up and talk to. There was a more togetherness feeling.”

For others from the Class of 2021, last year is much more difficult to look back on.

“(A teacher) would say something like, ‘We’re living in history right now,’ and that’s cool, but you’re living in history and you’re 35,” one student said. “I’m living in history and this is a year of my life that everyone tells me is supposed to be the best year of my life.”

That doesn’t mean it was all bad. Looking back, this student remembers the inter-classroom pranks as one highlight.

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“We did a couple little things that were fun that I remember about high school,” he said. “They weren’t much, but were still important to me. There was a little bit of room to mess around (COVID-19 restrictions), and in that small aspect of things, I think that was nice.”

Mikaela Jones, another graduate, had what she described as a “cheesy” answer when asked who had a significant impact on her senior experience.

“The whole community really impacted my senior experience,” she said. “Everyone was just looking out for us and wanted us to be kids and enjoy as much as we could while we still could.”

This year’s senior class members are grateful for their return to normal, even if there are some shortcomings. For last year’s seniors, some memories are painful and others they will hold onto for the rest of their lives.

As one graduate put it, “Senior year was like a box of chocolates, except I got a box of raisins instead. But they were chocolate-covered, so I guess it was OK, even though I don’t really like raisins.”

Pequot Lakes High School

  • Graduation: 6 p.m. Friday, May 27, high school football field, followed by parade through the city
  • Number of graduates: 128

Pine River-Backus High School

  • Graduation: 7 p.m. Friday, May 27, in the high school performance gym
  • Number of graduates: 51

Crosslake Community School

  • Graduation: 1 p.m. Friday, June 3, in the Crosslake Community School gymnasium
  • Number of graduates: 47

Foothills Christian Academy, Backus

  • Graduation: 6 p.m. Thursday, May 26, in the former Backus High School gym
  • Number of graduates: 5

Megan Buffington, Echo Journal intern, may be reached at 218-855-5854 or megan.buffington@pineandlakes.com . She is a 2021 Pequot Lakes High School graduate who attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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