The Goodbye I Need, But Never Wanted: A Senior Perspective on Distance Learning

A drawing by Abby Murphy about her experience in quarantine.

I remember when my sister was graduating from high school. It was 2015, and I was going to graduate middle school the next year. At the time, I had never heard of GDS.

She was trying on her cap and gown. She let me put it on too. 

I felt special in that outfit, like I’d accomplished something. I looked forward to five years from then when I could really feel that emotion in front of my family, my friends and my teachers.

2020. It was such an exciting year. 

It’s a year that sounds good. 2020: perfect vision, balanced, whole, hopeful. It would be my year, the year I entered the world as an adult citizen, the year I left home and the year I said goodbye to most of my normals. 

So, on March 13 this year, I drove to school like I had every morning for the last few months. 

I crossed Chain Bridge, trying to sneak a glance at the Potomac River as I went by. When my mom used to drive beside me, I rarely stared out the window. I was too often focused on memorizing something before a test or quiz, or finishing an essay or article. I should’ve looked down at the beautiful, raging river below me.

I drove down Nebraska Avenue, the site of so many exhausting runs with my best friends beside me. There, I tried to learn all of GDS’ secrets from a senior. I created a fake reality TV show with my friend. I stopped running just to laugh a little harder at a joke. I tried to teach all of GDS’ secrets to an underclassman. 

I passed all those memories and thought about the future runs that I had assumed I still had time for. My eyes teared up as I kept my foot hovering between the gas and brake pedals. It’s ironic we waited so long for this year. This awful, terrifying, insulting year.

On March 13, I refused to say goodbye. We had to be coming back. My senior track season could not have ended the day before. We would have some sort of senior prank. We would have a Community Day to say goodbye. And, at the very least, there would be a senior prom or a graduation. There would be a green cap and gown, a walk across a stage, a goodbye to my normals. 

Every day since school ended, I have run, done art, written and called a friend. Every day, the lack of closure, the fear and the loss hit me in a new way. 

But I am so honored to have had time walking up and down the Forum stairs, sitting on those big, comfortable library chairs, hiding away in the Augur Bit office or the art studio, learning to speak up both in and out of class. And those escapes I’ve had while in quarantine (running, art, writing, friends) all came from my GDS high school experience. I never ran on a team before high school. I never did art—never even doodled in class. I did write, but not the way I do now. And I didn’t know any of the people I am now calling every day. 

In 2016, I showed up to a GDS soccer tryout terrified, and it wasn’t just because I was afraid of putting my soccer skills to the test of high school athletics. I was terrified of GDS’ unknown, of what I was walking into when I walked onto that field. 

Now, we’re all in a new world of unknowns. It sucks. I want a formal goodbye, but that means admitting there is no coming back. 

The time when I click “Leave Meeting” at the end of the Zoom class is no replacement for the time between classes where I get to catch up with classmates and debrief. Those times are when we grow closer with classmates—when we make friends and process information together. 

Those silences of muted students are no replacement for reading the body languages of my peers, for hearing the little murmurs of answers too shy to be said louder, for knowing someone else found something funny and stifled a giggle. Those small sounds from my peers keep me engaged. They let me know we’re all here together to collaborate and learn. We are not separated into boxed islands; we are a classroom of learners. 

The 15 minutes between classes are no replacement for wandering through the hallway and finding a friend before my next class. Calling friends during lunch is not the same as sitting draped over the big chairs in the library arguing or laughing. Running alone every afternoon is not the same as pounding my feet next to teammates, telling stories from our days. Doing art alone in my room is not the same as sitting in the art studio, blasting music and talking to anyone who wanders in.

So, instead of waiting for what I’m afraid will never come, I want to say I’m grateful. I’m grateful to be healthy and to have access to resources many do not have. I’m grateful to have teachers so devoted to our well being. I’m grateful to have this community that doesn’t allow any of us to go unnoticed. I am grateful to have had the last four years, even if the end was cut short. 

Thank you to everyone who crossed my path during high school. I am so grateful to have a place I can miss so much. 

So, on my run today, I’m letting myself enjoy the sun hitting my skin. I’m looking at the places I pass, places so crucial to my life before GDS; these places remind me how much I’ve grown. There’s a river separating me and many of my friends—separating me and my school. But that beautiful, raging river will never really separate me from GDS. This school’s a part of me now.

Abby Murphy ’20