A resilient Lodi class goes the distance

·3 min read

Jun. 10—If one word summed up the 2020-21 school year for Lodi High School seniors, it was "tough." The class of 2021 gathered outside the Tokay High School auditorium Wednesday night, eager to walk across the stage, receive their diplomas and begin new chapters in their lives.

"It's kind of surreal. I have butterflies in my stomach right now," valedictorian Ann Marie Van Meter said. "It's great we're able to be here after being online the last year."

This past week marks two years since the graduating classes at all four high schools, three continuation high schools and Middle College High Schools have had in-person graduations. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, all graduation ceremonies were drive-through and virtual.

Some 400 senior Flames out of a class of 450 were walking Wednesday night, and Van Meter said it was great everyone could come together to celebrate. She said the nearly 10 months of distance learning was taxing, and she was happy to return to campus, even if it was just for two months.

"(Distance learning) caused me a lot of anxiety," Van Meter said. "And I had problems with managing time properly because I felt very distracted. It didn't feel engaging. I felt like I didn't learn much at all."

Destiny Sutherland felt the last year was relatively easy when it came to earning grades, but the social aspect of high school was something she and classmates sorely missed. A self-described "theater kid," Sutherland said she needs to be around people and be active to stay sane, as did a lot of athletes and speech and debate team members.

"It still feels like we're juniors," she said. "We never had that transition. We always have a tradition at our school that when we're at rallies, everybody is grouped into their years. And everybody switches (places at rallies). We never got to move into the seniors spot, and never got to move into the honored spot."

Melissa Clayworth said she didn't think Lodi Unified School District would be holding in-person ceremonies this summer, did not want to have to participate in a completely online graduation. She described the last year as "chaos," as she didn't think she'd earn enough math credits to be able to graduate with her friends due to distance learning. Once she returned to campus for in-person instruction though, things improved.

"(Distance learning) was a lot of being unmotivated," she said. "I think that was probably the hardest part. You have no motivation because you're in your house. You go to Zoom, finish, and you're like, oh, I take a nap now."

The one thing the students all agreed they would miss after this week was going to be the people they've come to know over the last four years.

"It was fun seeing everyone again," Alexa Stevens said. "I missed it. A lot of our teachers are better in person, too. It's hard on Zoom. Now, everyone is going to go different places and we may not keep in touch as much. A lot of them are going out of state for college."

Van Meter agreed, and said the past year made it hard for seniors to get to know the class of 2024.

"I'm going to miss the people," she said. "I didn't realize what a wonderful community of people are in high school. There are a lot of people I bonded with, but we really had no opportunity to meet a lot of underclassmen."

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