Like many around the country, Juneau’s recent high school graduates have had to navigate online classes, separation from their peers and a socially-distant graduation ceremony without precedent. Though not all seniors have experienced the pandemic in the same way.
Zakia McCorkle, a graduate from Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, has prioritized her health during her last semester, staying socially isolated with her family.
“I’ve a bad immune system, so I’ve been really locking down and holding up and kind of, like, borderline paranoid, but I know it’s for the best,” McCorkle said.
Some students are dealing with housing and health insecurity. Others have struggled with online classes and mental health. And many have been floundering with their endless free time.
Monie Dunlap, a graduate from Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School, had just finished up all their school credits before they were told to stay home.
Dunlap also had plans to make their own regalia to dance at Celebration before the event was canceled. They’ve managed these changes by pouring energy into other activities, like learning Tlingit and making masks at Elizabeth Pretatrovich hall to send to other Alaska communities.
Max Wheat, a graduate at Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School, said on Juneau Afternoon that he and his friends have mainly been “bored out of their minds” while finishing their senior year at home. He says that’s a relief since he had expected mental health issues in his community to soar.
Wheat remains optimistic and is looking forward to the day he can hug people again.
“You see a friend, give him a hug. You see an uncle you haven’t seen in forever, give him a hug. You know what I mean? It’s going to be good,” Wheat said.
The pandemic has brought immense uncertainty for students, but for some, it has brought a renewed sense of purpose.
For McCorkle, the pandemic has reaffirmed her commitment to tackling social inequality after graduation. She intends to work at Job Corp, a free vocational training program by the United States Department of Labor, and wants to one day open a domestic violence shelter.
“The rates have drastically shot up for domestic violence,” McCorkle explained, ”I feel like it’s something that we’re becoming more aware of, but we still don’t have enough resources for those that are in need … In most of high school, it was me trying to pursue how to help others … so I can better address everything from domestic violence to LGBTQ circumstances and other bad situations.”
As for what she’s looking forward to after graduating, she said without hesitation: “Freedom.”
A little abashed, she clarified, “You know it’s the little things!… From going to classes that I choose to go to or eating ice cream when I want to. ”
As she and other graduates pack and prepare for life after high school, McCorkle thinks that the pandemic shouldn’t stop them from staying hopeful.
“I think time is really precious. And I don’t think we should be wasting it on anything that you think is not worth it, whether that’s friends you have or jobs you’re pursuing,” McCorkle said. “If you don’t see yourself loving it or you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, why do it?…That could just be me sounding young, but I don’t see the point.”