Photography by Kathy Tran.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Senior year was far from ordinary for the Lake Highlands High School class of 2021.
The 2020-21 school year started virtually. The option for in-person learning eventually opened up, but returning to campus was not easy for some.
“The hardest part was just not really knowing what was going to happen,” senior Will Johnson says.
COVID-19 restrictions made it harder for seniors who returned to campus to come out of their shells.
“I personally felt a little bit closed off from everything else,” senior Addie Bone says. “I feel I haven’t been able to generate as many relationships as I would have.”
For senior Ryan Lucas, it was challenging to find the line for what was safe when it came to student events.
“It’s been really difficult to find the balance between what’s smart on paper as far as COVID’s concerned and what’s normal, like with doing pep rallies and making accommodations,” Lucas says.
Flexibility was key for LHHS principal Kerri Jones. The 2020-21 school year was just her second year as a high school administrator.
“The CDC is making different rules. The district is making different rules. It’s just trying to keep up and communicate that out,” Jones says.
On-campus events were pretty much nonexistent this year. While homecoming court still took place, students were unable to hold a homecoming dance.
The LHHS staff have a few tricks up their sleeves for seniors in the final months of the school year such as red carpet events, a sunrise breakfast and pep rallies.
“(We’re) trying to give them something this year because they missed so much of the social aspect of it,” Jones says.
Addie Bone, Ryan Lucas and Jennifer Guatemala.
Sports and extracurricular activities took a new form this year, but seniors made the most out of the final year in their commitments.
Students were encouraged to attend sporting events, but COVID restrictions initially resulted in low attendance. Stands were sparse at LHHS boys’ basketball games at the beginning of the school year, says senior and player Noah McDavid.
LHHS’ entire football team had to quarantine before the season kicked off after a few players contracted COVID. The team was clear of quarantines during the regular season, says player Johnson, but restrictions created an unpredictable game schedule.
“Games were moved to where we had to play three over the course of 10 days, which is rough for football because we’ve never had to do that before,” Johnson says.
LHHS’ girl’s basketball team faced similar scheduling challenges.
“We had no games for two weeks and then, all of a sudden, we’d have 10 games in a row with our masks on,” says senior and player Bella Olivares.
Masks also took some getting used to for senior Jennifer Guatemala while dancing with LHHS’ folklorico dance group.
“We did it, and wearing a mask was really challenging,” Guatemala says. “But we are trying to stay positive.”
The Wranglers, LHHS’ country western dance team, had its performances cut in half. The team’s yearly trip has now been canceled two years in a row.
“It’s been tough to have a senior year that is normal where we can show up again in public because we (usually) perform in gatherings,” Lucas says.
Be proud of yourself. You can make it through anything, because you have. I’m very proud of all of our kids because they made it the best year that it could be.
– Principal Kerri Jones
FINDING SILVER LININGS
Oct. 30, 2020, was the highlight of the 2020-21 school year for many LHHS seniors. It was the day LHHS football snagged a nail biting 31-34 victory over Jesuit.
“That was one moment where we realized we actually had something going,” player Lucas says. “We were struggling with having fans and just figuring all that out. That joy, it just felt normal. Seeing all the fans cheering, it was a good day.”
After the victory, Bone remembers looking over to see her friends and peers shedding tears of joy.
“I put something on my Instagram story and there were over 20 people who responded and said that is what has made this senior year worth it,” she says. “We just went with all of the punches, and that one game just felt like everything was normal.”
The LHHS seniors enjoyed small victories in their classrooms and extracurriculars where they could find them.
Lucas, a Wrangler, was relieved when the dance team had its big stadium performance with other district teams.
“I’m so glad we were able to have that just because it was probably the biggest thing we will have,” he says.
LHHS men’s basketball was able to set new records for themselves this school year.
“We went to the third round of the playoffs,” player McDavid says. “We haven’t done that since 2004, so that was pretty special.”
While most LHHS tennis team matches and dinners were canceled, Bone says she and a few teammates still found a way to stay connected.
“There was a group of four of us that would have a picnic after every match in the parking lot,” she says.
With some students learning virtually, smaller in-person class sizes were more beneficial to senior Loretta David.
“When you’re in a smaller class, it’s easier to get to know your teacher,” she says.
Senior Jair Alonso Arellano was simply proud of himself for showing up every day during a trying school year.
“I don’t think I have an accomplishment for myself other than just being present at school. I haven’t missed any days at all,” he says.
Jair Alonso Arellano and Loretta David.
The future for LHHS’ class of 2021 is still looking bright. For the most part, the pandemic has not put a wrench in many seniors’ post-graduate plans.
“I’ve always planned on going to college because I want to be a lawyer someday,” says David, who plans to study either economics, public policy or political science in college. “The pandemic is not getting in the way. I’m still going.”
Bone, who will attend Texas A&M University for nursing school, feels COVID has prepared her for college.
“I’ve been ready for a while for a new start,” she says. “Our sendoff isn’t going to be normal, so I feel like there isn’t fully going to be closure, but I’m ready.”
As the seniors approach the final weeks of their high school careers, Alonso Arellano says a change in mindset has made him excited for post-graduate life rather than feel sad about the end.
“I’m looking forward to the future,” he says. “I’m enjoying our last few days. It’s like we’re dying, but we’re not, we’ll survive, hopefully.”
The past year was not necessarily what the seniors expected when they first stepped foot in LHHS. But instead focusing on one challenging year, they are reminiscing over all the memories created from the entire four.
“I think it’s a super bittersweet thing,” Lucas says. “I’m going to miss all my friends from Lake Highlands. All the memories we’ve had here are greater than the setbacks we’ve had this year.”
Bella Olivares and Will Johnson.