Designing graduation invites for a party that may never come, Maggie Hapgood, my younger sister, sits on our deck overlooking the Iowan prairie, hoping to be somewhere dramatically different in five months—New York City. Standing fairly tall at 5’8”, Maggie wears a pair of white, platform Doc Martin boots to defy the fashion of her Midwest peers and to make it clear that Iowa is simply a pit-stop on her life path. As an aspiring fashion marketing and advertising major, set to start at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City in September, Maggie has four years of new experiences, city life, and vital time working in the fashion industry to look forward to—she hopes.
Amid the growing devastation of Covid-19, the high school class of 2020 has more to worry about than missing, prom, graduation, and the last two months of classes. Doubts of the future span further ahead than a few months; high school seniors fear losing experiences, being unemployed, and likely living in a world drastically different than the one where they grew up.
Maggie fears that the college experience she applied for will not be the experience she receives. Entering a field where personal connections and charisma are vital, Maggie worries these personal connections cannot be made over the phone. Potentially unable to physically attend school in New York City, she is concerned that her professional career will stall as she won’t have in-person internships and vital experiences at various fashion shows and galas. Ultimately, Maggie dreads that the life she set herself up to experience will be halted—thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Maggie’s desire to work in the advertising and marketing of the fashion industry leaves her concerned with the potential that her future career will change drastically. She considers herself “fairly well connected” and “good at making first impressions” which are valuable assets in a face-to-face career field. Maggie wonders if she should continue to pursue her intended field of work if the structure of the industry changes. “I genuinely don’t think I would enjoy a career that’s primarily over the phone,” she says, “I enjoy [fashion marketing and advertising] because of the people and their stories.” However, she sees no reason to miss out on any of the connections or relationships in the fashion industry.
Even though the pandemic recently ended Maggie’s high school career when her school closed for the rest of the semester, she sees no reason to virtually participate in any future college experiences. She says, “If we all do our part and stay inside, there’s no reason to miss out on any more of our young adult lives.” Maggie takes self-quarantining and social distancing seriously; to her disappointment, she is one of few people in her class sincerely concerned about the Coronavirus pandemic.
Maggie has not seen anyone outside of her immediate family, her parents and sister, in the past 50 days. She has not gone anywhere outside of her home except walking her dog, and she is “going insane.” Maggie says, “Every day I’m trapped inside with my family is another day I am removing myself from the problem.” She prefers to suffer socially now instead of paying the price later if she is unable to begin school physically. However, Maggie says students in her grade “blatantly disregard CDC guidelines and spend time with friends,” while sometimes under fire from concerned parents.
The city of Johnston, Maggie’s hometown, has less than ten Covid-19 cases and follows the state of Iowa’s guidelines—which are significantly less severe than the executive orders in many other states. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, there are executive orders from the governor that school is online for the rest of the semester and all non-essential businesses are closed or “curbside pick-up”, so any other guidelines are simply suggestions that many people choose not to follow. Maggie chooses to follow all suggestions and guidelines.
The complete shutdown of the city of New York solidified Maggie’s decision to practice strict social distancing and abide by the CDC guidelines. She wants to do everything possible to physically attend school in the fall.
One of Maggie’s less concerned friends, Clara Toot, a senior in the high school class of 2020, approaches the entire global pandemic situation completely differently from Maggie. Clara is upset with the shortened seasons of activities she participates in, as well as the cancellation of senior experiences—like prom and graduation. However, she still continues to spend time with friends in one-on-one settings. Clara believes that Maggie is taking the situation to the extreme by not spending time with any friends. She believes Maggie’s behavior stems from Maggie’s plans to attend school in New York City. Most of Maggie’s friends, including Clara plans to attend school in-state. “Most of [Maggie’s friends] are confused why [Maggie] won’t hang out in small groups of people and why she’s taking the Coronavirus situation so seriously,” says Clara.
As Maggie plans to attend school 1,500 miles away from home, she is slowly removing high school acquaintances from her life as she sees no need to spend energy on a “pointless relationship.” She says, “My friends are confused why I’m taking [coronavirus] so seriously.” Maggie’s choice of school also results in her distancing herself from her close friends as a way to “subconsciously ease the pain of being far away” from loved ones. The choice to socially distance herself from her relationships has proved to make quarantine easier as well as a “no-brainer” for her.
According to the New York and Iowa Departments of Public Health, less than 0.08 percent of the state of Iowa population has contracted Covid-19; however, more than 2.7 percent of the population of the state of New York has contracted the virus. These simple statistics alone could explain the fears of Maggie over the fears of Clara. However, Covid-19 affected New York State before Iowa, so logically Iowans will continue to contract the virus with no end in sight because citizens, especially high school students, believe the virus will not affect them. “The attitude of my grade is that the virus won’t affect them because they’re young and healthy,” says Maggie, even as data continues to show an increase in young people affected by Covid-19. “We are not untouchable,” she says.
Clara says she will continue to spend time with friends because she “knows where they’ve been” so she does not fear the possibility of herself contracting the virus. Iowa’s low population density and relatively low population mean that “CDC guidelines are a suggestion for people more at risk, like the elderly or people with predisposed conditions,” Clara says. She believes younger and healthier people don’t necessarily need to abide by the rules since they are not at as great of a risk.
Another high school senior, Jackie Liang, explains similar practices of spending time with friends, as the few people she chooses to be with are in the same friend group. Interestingly, Jackie plans to attend school out-of-state, in Arizona. According to the Arizona Department of Public Health, less than 0.06 percent of the state’s population has contracted Covid-19, easing Jackie’s fears of not attending school physically in the fall.
Jackie says she feels Maggie is “taking extreme measures” and that strict self-quarantining is somewhat “ludicrous” as the situation is not severe in the state of Iowa. Jackie sees no end to spending time with friends. “As long as my friends are practicing good hygiene and aren’t around other people, I see no problem with seeing a few people,” says Liang.
Through all of the confidence by Jackie and Clara, shreds of uncertainty and concern surrounding the coronavirus situation bleed through. Both have moments of fear when they realize the coronavirus pandemic is somewhat serious. Clara says when she found out her college’s orientation was cancelled, she felt “a pit of dread” because the cancellation officially means her college career already will not be completely normal, since many college freshmen make vital memories and friends during orientation. Jackie says she realized some extent of the severity of the coronavirus “when the state mock trial competition was cancelled along with all other spring activities.”
The loss of final goodbyes to the places, people, and activities that shaped the class of 2020 is “heartbreaking and makes it hard to find closure,” says Maggie. However, “we really need to remember the bigger picture now and do our best to ensure we won’t lose college experiences.” Many students fear the shut-down of campuses for the fall semester, resulting in less time experiencing college.
Maggie challenges her peers to take hold of their concerns, and instead contribute to halting the spread of Covid-19 by not spending time with friends or frequenting the few essential businesses still open to cure their boredom. “Some of [my peers] see this time off from school as a ‘last hoorah’ before we go off to college,” says Maggie, “but they’re either ignorant or naïve because we’re fighting our biggest battle yet—we need everyone’s help.”
Uncertainty permeates daily life in the spring of 2020. To some extent, the world feels like a warzone; but instead of fighting each other, we’re fighting against a disease that most don’t understand, and we’re all at risk. To some this risk is low and easily manageable, but to others this is life and death. Maggie tries to focus on the future and worry about the little she can control.
Each night, in her childhood bedroom containing signed posters of obscure artists, a record player, fifty-cent records from thrift stores, and drawers full of makeup, Maggie FaceTimes her future roommates. She refuses to let the virus inhibit her from making those vital connections she hopes to continue in the fall. In some ways Maggie is with the like-minded individuals her colleges promised—only through a screen. ♦