Photography by Kathy Tran.

The class of 2021 has experienced plenty of educational disruption and social turmoil. COVID-19 threatened their health. It altered their extracurriculars and obliterated many typical senior milestones. And then the freak Arctic blast left some without homes, power and internet. In their own words, here’s how some of our neighborhood graduates overcame this year’s obstacles and are looking forward to a life beyond high school.

HITTING THE BOOKS

Skylar Linker, Woodrow Wilson. Plans to attend Davidson College or the University of Texas at Arlington and major in history

“I started virtual because I didn’t trust the school to make it safe. Both my parents are older and have pre-existing conditions. I went back once, but it wasn’t the same. You’re sitting 6 feet apart. You’ve got glass around you. I’ve been procrastinating a lot more. Motivation is gone. It’s ‘senioritis’ on top of COVID.”

Rhett Esval, Woodrow Wilson. Plans to join the Air Force Reserve and attend basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in July. He’ll study computer science at the University of North Texas in the spring.

“I still wanted the school experience and learning from a teacher, but I also wanted to do half online because it takes a bit of the stress off. Sometimes it’s just you and the teacher. You get to know them as a person.”

ON THE FIELD

Jay Matney, Woodrow Wilson. Plans to attend Texas A&M and major in sports management

“I played football at Woodrow this year. I was tight end and defensive end. The stadium wasn’t as full, so it wasn’t the same experience as a year without COVID. We made the playoffs for the first time in a couple years, so that was really fun. It was worth it.”

Alexa Fitton, Bryan Adams. Plans to attend the University of Texas and major in chemistry

“COVID was my first year competing in swim. Over the summer, I spent my whole time working. I was able to buy my car to get myself to and from practice. Swim was the only time I could really see my friends. No spectators were allowed. My senior night, my parents couldn’t come. It was a moment I wanted them to be there. “

Lila Banowetz, Bishop Lynch. Plans to attend the University of Oklahoma and major in public relations and communications

“I dance outside of school. I was doing classes on Zoom. I’d put up my laptop and do dances in the garage. I wanted to quit, but my mom was against it. Once we went back in person, I enjoyed it more. My friends still go, and I’m still getting to do what I love. All competitions have been canceled. We don’t even know if we are going to have a showcase. In some ways, I’m not as stressed because I don’t have a dance competition every other weekend.”

HELPING HANDS

Andrew Volney, Townview. Plans to attend Texas A&M and major in business administration

“It’s hard to put service online, but the Young Men’s Service League has done a good job of adapting. One thing we did quite a bit was write letters to the folks at Juliette Fowler. That hit close to home because I have a great-grandmother in a senior care facility. A couple of my favorite opportunities got snubbed out because of the pandemic. But I didn’t miss out on nearly as many as I expected. We still did For the Love of the Lake because that’s outside.”

Ruby Rodriguez, Woodrow Wilson. Plans to attend Northeastern University and major in mechanical engineering

FIRST Robotics Competition team. I coordinate outreach projects. Our outreach is mainly COVID related. At the start of the pandemic, we were able to print 3,500 face shields for health care workers. We gave away 3D-printed door handle keys. We also partnered with another company and trained 100 North Texas teachers how to use 3D printers that they could take with them. Past outreach was getting more women involved in STEM. I want to carry that with me as I go on. I think girls would like this and they’d have a passion for it like I do if they could see all the possibilities.”

AFTER HOURS

Evelyn Pate, Woodrow Wilson. Plans to attend Oklahoma State University and major in architecture with a minor in music

“This whole thing has been pretty hard on the band program. For marching band, we rehearsed outside, which wasn’t unusual. We lost a lot of members over the summer. We had to do a shorter and simpler show than usual. Woodwinds go in on some days and brass on the other. We haven’t had a concert yet this year, but we have plans to do one in the spring. It’s been disappointing, but I do solo competitions, and those have gone pretty well for me.”

Andrew Volney: “I’m a member of the quiz bowl team. It’s like studying for another class. Pre-COVID, we’d have a tournament once or twice a month. When everything moved online, it continued as usual. They just had to make sure kids weren’t cheating online. We’ve done eight online tournaments and have performed pretty well. We’ve gotten first at a few tournaments against top national teams.”

Skylar Linker: “FIRST Robotics Competition is doing virtual events. You take a video of your robot during certain maneuvers, and then people judge it from home. A lot of the energy is definitely gone. I haven’t participated as much because of that, but it’s nice to be with classmates and problem solve.”

MISSED MILESTONES

Alexa Fitton: “We didn’t have homecoming or pep rallies. To not have one last one — or to not realize the last one would be my last one — to put it in simple terms, that sucks a little bit.”

Ruby Rodriguez: “I was looking forward to just being a senior and showing that spirit. We have homecoming week, and before, I was not going to do it. I thought it was lame. But I made a promise to my mom that senior year, I was going to go all in. Then I was like, ‘Never mind.’ I won’t go to football games.”

Lila Banowetz: “Everything we’ve tried to do has been canceled, and that’s been the hardest part. It sucks because you look forward to senior year and getting those privileges. We got to go to one football game. They’ve planned a prom. It’ll be just seniors. No outside dates. I’m going to go in a girls group. The whole dance will be super spread out with teachers to monitor. There’s not going to be a big mosh pit.”

Jay Matney: “I was voted Mr. Wildcat and Homecoming King. It meant a lot to me that people throughout the school thought highly of me. It felt good to be recognized for the activities I’ve been in.”

CAMPUS LIFE

Rhett Esval: “They have shortened basic training by a week. They’re going to try to spread us all out, but a lot of basic training is figuring out how to march and drill together. They’re getting rid of the sit-up portion of the test because you have someone holding your feet. It’s not easier, but it’s not what it should be. Graduating from basic training is a big accomplishment. You’ve gone through the worst seven and a half weeks. Then you don’t get to have family at graduation.”

Andrew Volney: “I plan on staying involved in service organizations. I think it’ll provide me with valuable experience in adulthood. Adults sometimes lose sight of giving back to the community while they’re working to put food on the table. It makes my heart feel good to help people.”

Ruby Rodriguez: “I’m looking forward to getting out of state and learning to be on my own. Being in Boston, there are a lot of projects that cross between colleges, and I’m looking forward to participating in that. There were a lot of downsides last year, but I’m not going to give up.”


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