Although there were challenges, particularly amid the pandemic, students say they're grateful for their time in high school.
From virtual classes to canceled proms, it’s no secret that the senior class of 2021 had an unusual final year of high school.
However, many say they found solace in friendships, performances and pass times.
Here’s what some of Sarasota County’s senior class had to say about their challenges and greatest moments of joy in their last days of high school.
School: Sarasota High
Extracurriculars: Varsity basketball, Student Government, Key Club, Education Foundation mentorship
Future plans: Business and finances major at the University of Florida
Laguerre viewed COVID-19 during her last year in high school as an obstacle but also something she completely committed to overcoming.
"If you took 110% advantage, it didn't make a difference," Laguerre said. "It didn't stop anything (for me)."
The pandemic started when she was a junior and gave her the opportunity to focus on applying to colleges and achieving various scholarships. What's more, the extra time helped her think about exactly what she wanted to pursue and what college she wanted to attend. She also had more time to hit the gym which she feels paid off on the varsity basketball court.
"I worked out a lot at home and I just got better," Laguerre said. "It was a great season for me even with the pandemic."
Extracurriculars: VPA program, Booker Ambassador, secretary of Student Council
Future plans: film major at University of Central Florida
Summerlin said that because of COVID-19 affecting classes, extracurriculars and typical senior events, his idea of a high school experience was shifted.
“One thing I learned is that I have to be adjustable and be able to change,” Summerlin said with a laugh. “I went to high school and I was like, ‘I want my High School Musical experience,’ and I came out and I’m like, ‘Disney lied to me.’”
Although many things changed, Summerlin was glad to continue work as a film and animation student with Booker’s Visual and Performing Arts program. In his senior year he wrote and directed a film adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Last Rung on the Ladder.”
“I love film and I got really lucky because film at my school is a priority,” Summerlin said. “We really tackle deep, hard issues and stories to expand our story mindset and I’m so lucky to have been taught how to do that properly.”
Extracurriculars: Drum major of Riverview High School Kiltie Band, jazz band and percussion ensembles
Future plans: Marine Corps
Clancy transferred to Riverview High School in his sophomore year specifically to participate in the marching band. He said one of the biggest challenges came not in the classroom, but on the football field because musicians had to socially distance, wear masks and place bell covers over their instruments.
Although, they weren’t able to compete this year, the Kilties fielded a show at halftime of home football games. Clancy’s favorite memory from his senior year is the first football game in uniform.
“Seeing everybody out on the field from the podium getting to enjoy themselves regardless of if it was a normal, full show or not was amazing,” Clancy said. “It was nice to be there in the moment and not stuck on the sidelines.”
Clancy said he’s looking forward to traveling with the marine corps, though he’ll always take with him a lesson from his band director, Andrew Dubbert.
“Mr. Dubbert says all the time, ‘Take advantage of this opportunity,’” Clancy said. “After hearing that so much, there’s a lot of opportunities I regret not taking, so now I really want to push myself to try everything I can.”
School: Cardinal Mooney
Extracurriculars: dance team, Miracle League Club, swim, lacrosse, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and National Honor Society
Future plans: studying at the University of Florida (She’s undecided on a major)
Callahan said one of the biggest challenges was switching to a block schedule and not seeing all her classmates every day. She also said it was difficult keeping up with training for sports due to cancelations and varying practice schedules.
However, Callahan said the community at Mooney still made her senior year memorable.
“Mooney is a really great community, and everyone was really supportive in terms of the different struggles with COVID,” she said. “The most enjoyable time was just time spent with my peers so I’ll definitely miss that.”
Callahan, who was the school’s 2021 valedictorian, said that although she found the idea of giving a commencement speech daunting, she wanted to remind her classmates to find their unique gifts and use them.
“Everyone has extremely different and unique gifts and talents,” Callahan said. “I just wanted to encourage my classmates not to be wary of pursuing their unique passion, even if they’re different or unconventional.”
School: Booker High School
Extracurriculars: VPA program
Future plans: psychology major at New College of Florida
Salvitti attended most of her senior classes from her bedroom as an online student because she has several immunocompromised family members. She said the experience was interesting, but she often found it hard to keep focused.
Luckily, as a performance major in the VPA program, she was able to attend rehearsals on campus. Changing the performances to follow safety protocols was difficult, but Salvitti still found joy in the art.
“It was difficult, but we learned how to work around it,” she said. “In a way, it made the small victories and the small joys so much better.”
Although she learned a lot in class, Salvitti said it’s the friendships she’s made in the program that have taught her the most.
“They’ve taught me how to be a good human,” she said. “A lot of other high schoolers oftentimes don’t get to have the friendships and relationships that my theater class gets to form with each other and that connection, to me, is everything.”
School: Booker High School
Extracurriculars: National Honor Society, Medics Club, VPA program, International Affairs, co-p resident of dual enrollment initiative and co-president of Fashion Club
Future Plans: premedical student at University of Florida
Throughout her high school career, Witlarge-Isaacs split her passion between the arts and academics. Her two favorite activities were dance performance within the VPA program and a dual enrollment initiative that exposes students to the dual enrollment pathway offered at local colleges.
“It’s nice that Booker offers so many things,” Witlarge-Isaacs said. “With dance, I was able to stay active and it was nice to explore all the different styles and cultures. With dual enrollment, that’s where my leadership skills spark. So it was a good opportunity for me to grow all around.”
Although she said senior cancelations and limitations have been challenging, the year has taught her to adapt and work through any scenario. There are two main lessons she’s taking with her after her time at Booker.
“A big one for me is to not put so much pressure on yourself. Just put your best foot forward, give it 100% of your ability and it’ll all work out,” Witlarge-Isaacs said. “The second piece of advice I’ll take with me is to definitely take advantage of your resources to help you be as prepared as possible for your endeavors.”
Extracurriculars: Unidos Now, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto counties, Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County
Future plans: international relations at Stanford University
Fermin attended her classes at Riverview online for the first quarter of her senior year, which she said helped her grow as an academic.
“I think the pandemic changed the way in which we thought about education and the way in which we received it,” Fermin said. It required me to do a bit of creative, outside-the-box thinking because I had to adapt to a new environment.”
Throughout her high school career, Fermin said the programs she’s taken at Riverview and the volunteer work she’s done outside of school, are the reason she is attending college.
She said the teachers at Riverview truly care for their students and would continually push her to be better and think about the value of the education she received.
“Riverview has taught me to always challenge myself and take initiative if I want something to happen either for my life or to make changes in the community that I want to see,” Fermin said. “I was very fortunate to have people telling me to push myself and challenge myself because that’s ultimately what takes you to self-actualization.”
School: Booker High School
Extracurriculars: VPA program, works as a stage manager and designer for various theaters in town, Student Government Association, National Honor Society secretary, Math Club
Future Plans: theater design major at Carnegie Mellon University
For Coscia, a live entertainment production and design VPA student, theater has been her life since she was 6. So, when theaters closed and productions shut down, her picture of her senior year shifted. www.sophiacoscia.myportfolio.com
However, as a projection designer, she was still able to find joy in the change.
“It’s been kind of exciting actually,” Coscia said. “I’ve been finding a lot of solutions to make things because I was forced to think out of the box.”
Coscia said Booker taught her to hone in on her own talents and be confident in herself. As a graduation speaker, that’s a message she wants to share with her classmates.
“Booker is the place where everyone can unapologetically be themselves,” she said. “I think the most important thing I learned is that you get a lot further in life by being who you are rather than trying to be what you think people want you to be because at the end of the day, your personality and the things that make you you are the reasons people are drawn to you.”
School: Booker High School
Extracurriculars: Cross country, soccer, founder of Unidos Now at Booker, vice president of Key Club, college reach out prog
Future plans: computer science at Florida State University
Between two quarantines due to contact-tracing, Reynoso-Placencia spent about a month of his senior year virtually, causing him to miss classes and athletic competitions.
However, he was still able to find a way to succeed. He joined various leadership clubs and broke is cross country personal record by five minutes. He even built a smart mirror that tells a user the time, the weather and calendar events.
He said none of his success would be possible without the mentors and community he found at Booker. When Reynoso-Placencia first came to Booker, he was still learning English and was very shy.
After meeting a mentor at the school, he began opening himself up to new experiences that he said made him open his eyes to all the possibilities in front of him.
“It’s amazing attending a school that supports our passions,” Reynoso-Placencia said. “I’m so grateful to go to a school that has helped me develop as a person and academically. All the teachers know you and they help push us to be the best, which just makes everything more impactful, more powerful, because it’s one big family, really.”
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