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The high school experience in 2020: Four seniors give their impressions

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

To say 2020 has been an unusual year would be a huge understatement. If it isn’t already, by year’s end it will surely be the weirdest year any of us have ever lived through.

This is doubly true for the graduating class of 2020. For the first time since … ever … all school buildings in Virginia were closed completely by mid-March by order of the governor.

This, of course, was all a part of a societal shutdown related to the infamous COVID-19 virus. Out of an overabundance of caution all springtime activities, including the 2020 PCHS prom, were canceled.

As if that wasn’t enough, for the last several weeks, protests and riots have rocked many American cities.

What a time to grow up … and what is it like to graduate under these circumstances?

We asked four seniors, two guys and two gals from PCHS, what it was like to be a 12th grader in the year 2020.

Austin Gallimore, son of Michelle Austin and Josh Galimore, is a happy-go-lucky type of kid. His best bud Luke Russell, son of Dean and Gina Russell, shares Austin’s upbeat outlook but is maybe a little quieter. Both Luke and Austin were standouts on last season’s PCHS Cougar football team and would have likely excelled in baseball this year if the season hadn’t been canceled.

It’s well understood that these two like to hang out. They were even bestowed the superlative honor of “Best Bromance” in the PCHS yearbook.

Carley Cox, daughter of Sabrina and Mark Cox, and Sofia Garcia, daughter of Jose Garcia, are also known to hang out together.

Carley, in this interview anyway, is the more reserved of the two. Sophia, who was Student Council President, a varsity cheerleader and member of the tennis team, is more than willing to give her opinion on whatever subject may arise.

The 2019 Fall semester began as normal, which was a good thing as these four seniors generally enjoyed attending PCHS.

“My favorite class was my internship that Miss Underwood put me in,” said Sophia Garcia. “I was a kindergarten assistant teacher and I love the kids. I miss every single one of them.”

“Mine was definitely the government class taught by Mr. Lavery,” said Austin Gallimore. “Every day we’d have debates in there … the students, the teacher … everybody.”

“My favorite was Mr. Connely’s statistics class,” said Luke Russell.

“Yeah that was a good class,” said Carley Cox. “That and my pharmacy class with Ms. Byrd.”

All four were in the PCHS Homecoming Court. Austin Gallimore was elected Duke of the court.

“Homecoming was the funnest week,” said Sofia. “First of all I got to plan the whole Spirit Week and I ended up winning Princess and Landen won Prince and we already knew Alana was going to win, but we love her. But the whole week was so fun. The seniors won Powder Puff and yeah, I was getting down and dirty. I’ll tell you that. I ain’t gonna lie.”

The Spring semester went on as usual until mid-March, when all schools in Virginia were closed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“I was kind of excited at first but then I was like, this is really messed up,” said Carley.

“At first I was like woohoo!” said Luke. “Because I thought it was just going to be a break and then we’d come back, but then it was the whole school year.”

“At first I was like, yes we’re out of school!” said Austin Gallimore. “But after like a week or two, I was just setting at home bored. I was like, dang, I kinda want to go back to school and see my friends.”

“And I felt like I didn’t learn the material that I needed to learn either,” said Luke. “Like I didn’t get to learn all that I needed to learn for college.”

Classes continued, but “remote learning” was the new catchphrase and lessons had to be taught online or with assignment packets picked up by parents.

“For me, I would rather have a teacher in front of me telling me what to do, rather than doing it online and trying to figure stuff out,” said Austin.

Was it still easy to communicate with teachers?

“No because some of them didn’t email me back,” said Sofia.

“Some of them didn’t know they were supposed too,” said Carley.

“My teachers did a good job of communicating and that made it easy for me.,” said Luke. “The worksheets were definitely easier than in a class and it was like basically pass or fail. So that was kind of advantage, being online. But me personally, I didn’t like it. I’d rather be in school.”

It is still unclear how students will attend school in the fall semester, but there has been talk of limiting students to attending one day a week and continuing with online instruction.

“That’s going to be rough … definitely if it’s the whole year, it’s going to be rough,” said Austin.

“I want to go into education and if there’s really no classroom right now … I don’t know how it’s going to be a couple of years from now,” said Sofia. “Like is that what I’m going to do for the rest of my life? I don’t know if I can do that, so it’s kind of frustrating.”

For a time, it looked as though both prom and a normal graduation could occur, but restrictions against large gatherings remained in place all through the spring and the prom was canceled.

“I’m glad I didn’t buy my dress, I’ll tell you that,” said Sofia. “It’s expensive.”

“I bought my dress a couple of days before they canceled it,” said Carley. “So, I took it back.”

A graduation ceremony did take place, but it was done in a highly unusual “drive-thru” manner.

“I think they did a great job working with what they had,” said Carley.

“I think so too but I also believe we should have had more teachers there,” said Sofia. “That kind of bummed me out.”

“I think the teachers did a pretty good job overall doing this,” said Luke. “I know it wasn’t easy. They did the best they could through all this so props to them.”

“And the whole week they did for us … that was nice,” said Carley.

“I think the administration did a really good job with that,” said Sofia.

“The drive in slide show was excellent,” said Austin, referring to a one of the graduation week’s activities.

Civil unrest has also been prominent in the daily news. What did these graduating seniors make of it?

“I think corona is making people crazy,” said Carley.

“It really does make me mad that people can go and riot and stuff and then they couldn’t go to church … you know,” Austin Gallimore asked.

“People couldn’t go to funerals,” said Carley Cox. “I know plenty of people that happened too.”

“The Constitution says that you have the right to protest but it don’t say like, go around breaking stuff,” said Luke Russell. “They need to protest peacefully and not hurt anyone.”

Does Pulaski County High School have issues with race?

“I don’t see it personally,” said Carley.

“When I first came to school I thought everybody thought I was crazy because they’d never seen a Mexican girl who spoke Spanish,” said Sofia. “I just turned everything that happened to me in a positive way, instead of like being upset.”

Sophia didn’t grow up here but moved from North Carolina at the end of her freshman year. At first she experienced a bit of culture shock but gradually warmed to the area.

“It’s a great place,” said Sofia. “People don’t realize that people get a lot more opportunity here than other places.”

“I love it here,” said Luke. “It’s really, really beautiful and there’s nothing like playing in this stadium.”

“Yeah, we were cheering,” said Sofia. “I loved it!”

“There’s really nothing like Cougar football at all,” said Austin.

“Yeah, we had a really fun season,” said Luke. “It didn’t come out how we wanted it but we had a really fun season.”

A most unusual end of the school year but these students managed to make the best of it.

All four plan to continue their studies. Austin Gallimore will attend Ferrum College and will play for their football team. Luke Russell will attend New River Community College but then plans to transfer to a four-year college to study dentistry. Sofia Garcia is going to Radford University and plans to become a teacher. Carley Cox, who currently works at Martin’s Pharmacy, will attend East Tennessee State to study pharmacology.

Doubtless, these four young adults will find success in their future endeavors and we wish them the best.

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