College Bound? Class of 2020 Look Past Graduation, Hopeful to Be on Campus in September

Ahmed Alananzeh’s family had been waiting for graduation since coming to America – watching three previous children go through Everett High and all just missing the top spot.

This year, Alananzeh and his family were set to enjoy hearing him give the valedictorian speech at Everett Memorial Stadium – videotaping the speech and sending it viral to so many family and friends online. It was the moment they had all been waiting for, he said.

Now, it likely isn’t going to happen at all, and even more so, Alananzeh is more worried about being able to start college at Yale University on campus this fall – as he heard last week that the fall semester could be online.

“I think my family is more hurt than I am now,” said Alananzeh on Monday in a Zoom call with two other seniors. “I’m the fourth and youngest in the family and all of us graduated from Everett High. I was the first one to be valedictorian and now they don’t get to hear that valedictorian speech. That was going to be recorded and would have gone all over social media. This is why we came to the U.S. – so one of us could excel. They really wanted to have that moment, to see me give the speech and have my name called. I think it’s something they had hoped for over many years.”

Now that opportunity appears more and more like it won’t happen, and seniors said that after Gov. Charlie Baker’s cancellation of the in-person school year one week ago, the mood of the class has gone from hopeful to sad.

Alananzeh and seniors Chloe Lewis and Melisa Demaku said there was no real surprise in that decision, but the real downer has been the uncertainty with colleges. Alananzeh committed to Yale some time ago, and had hoped to take a visit in April or May, but that isn’t allowed. Demaku – choosing between Wellesley College and Salem State – said she is at a standstill in her college decision, mostly because she can’t see the campus, talk to students or visit with alumni.

For all three, the hope now isn’t so much about high school, but rather about college in the fall.

“I found out orientation for freshman (at UMass-Lowell) is going to be online too,” she said. “In July I have to do the whole orientation from home. I don’t even get to do that.”

Said Demaku, “A lot of the colleges I’ve gotten into e-mailed me to say there is a very good possibility that my first semester could be online. They want the students to know that before the commit and pay their deposits…I still haven’t committed to a college yet. That’s hard to do now because I haven’t been able to see the campuses or meet alumni. A lot of the college deadlines to apply are pushed back to June 1 so I’m not too worried…I know a lot of my teachers graduated from Salem State and I want to be a teacher. Wellesley is a good college too though.”

Alananzeh recalls thinking he would finish up his senior year, celebrate with his family, visit Yale and then prepare to settle on campus in the late summer. That is all up in the air now, and he said he is facing the reality of starting his college career at an Ivy League School in his parent’s basement.

“I committed early and I’ve only driven through Connecticut to get to New York and New Jersey, and I never got to see the campus,” he said. “I’m hoping this all ends soon because the orientation is late August. I wanted to make a few friends when I got to campus. I want the full college experience in the fall. It’s not the same at home learning…Right now, I just hope college is open by the time fall rolls around.”

Such has been the pattern of expectations for the Class of 2020 as the last eight weeks have transpired. Many have gone from the shock of seeing school closed until late April, to seeing the seriousness of the virus take hold, to letting go of the idea of having prom and senior week (and possibly graduation), to now simply hoping they can start their college lives in the fall on campus rather than online.

It has been the potential loss of graduation (which isn’t yet officially cancelled, but seniors don’t feel optimistic) that has been the hardest thing for these seniors and their families to accept.

“I live right next to the Stadium; I can see it from my window,” said Demaku. “I grew up always seeing graduation and it was a big deal for me. My parents are immigrants. They came to the U.S. for my sister and I. Graduation is a big deal for them. They were excited for it. I feel really bad because they want to be able to hear my name called like they did for my sister, who graduated Everett High in 2015.”

Said Lewis, “My parents are really upset. I’m the oldest of six kids. My dad didn’t finish high school and it’s a highlight for them because I’ve done really well in high school. They’ve been really looking forward to celebrating with me. They feel for me and are sad.”

Other things are also laughable misses.

“I never got to skip school,” said Alananzeh, who has perfect attendance since the 7th grade. “I came to school sick too.”

But even being “robbed in broad daylight,” as one said, none of the class wants to be remembered for the last three months of the school year. Rather, they would like to be remembered for the previous three years and seven months.

“I want to be remembered as being the best class,” said Lewis. “I fell throughout high school we were always told we were an amazing class and one of the best ever at Everett High. We had a lot of great accomplishments before this happened. It’s unfortunate we’ll be remembered mostly as the class that got its senior year taken away.”

Added Demaku, “Everyone has a right to complain, but honestly this has made me appreciate more what I did experience in high school over the years.”

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