This is a weekly series highlighting some of Chatham’s graduating seniors in the wake of cancellations of ceremonies and traditions due to COVID-19. This week, we're featuring two graduates from Jordan-Matthews High School.
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SILER CITY — Even though experiencing her senior year of high school during a pandemic has been difficult, Avery Headen — a member of the Class of 2020 at Jordan-Matthews High School — doesn’t like using any “negative words” to describe the last few months.
“It’s a really unique experience,” Headen said. “There’s not really anything anyone can do about it. It’s just something that we have to deal with.”
Headen has faced the challenges with online classes, online Advanced Placement exams — all of which were “more difficult,” but she said she’s “managed.”
What she really misses the most is just being at school.
“I miss the atmosphere and just walking down the halls,” Headen said. “I miss having a schedule. I miss the teachers. I miss all my friends, even people I didn’t really know that well. I miss sports. I miss practice. I miss the atmosphere and the people.”
Headen also wishes that she could have been there to provide guidance for incoming freshmen, saying that she doesn’t get to “leave as much of an impact” on them as she would have. She said that many of her friends are upset about missing prom, but for her, one of the greatest losses is not being able to play softball her senior year. And the lack of “closure” the senior year typically provides.
“Everything has been kinda hard,” Headen said. “I may not ever be able to see some of my classmates again and not getting the final goodbye or that final walk down the hallway — all of that closure I don’t get to have. Those last classes and last moments.”
Headen said being at home on her family’s farm has been a big change for her. The activities on the farm help keep her preoccupied and she’s able to engage in sporting activities with her family in her yard. Being at home, she said, is not “as bad as people make it out to be,” but “it’s starting to get a little old.”
Even so, this time has given Headen a perspective she will carry with her.
“Don’t ever take anything for granted because things can be taken in the blink of an eye,” Headen said. “Nothing is ever permanent so try to appreciate the little moments that you have. Just enjoy every minute of it because you never know when something’s going to happen that’s out of your control.”
SILER CITY — Oscar Manzanarez, who is set to graduate this year from Jordan-Matthews High School, will be the first in his family to graduate high school and the first to go to college. For him, his last year of high school was supposed to prepare him for college and “do what I need to do to be successful.”
“I’m missing that valuable time at school, getting those essential topics taught to me,” Manzanarez said. “That’s what I feel like I’m missing out on and not getting that one on one with my teachers.”
As the first in his family to graduate, Manazarez said he always “had this mindset” that his last semester at high school was his last chance to “learn about the flow of what college will be.” He said he’s “setting the path for his siblings” and is worried he won’t know all the steps to be able to teach them.
As one of a nine-member household, Manzanarez has found that his part-time job at a fast food restaurant has become a full-time one to help support his family, whose members have seen a reduction in work hours due to COVID closures. He feels like he’s working “twice as hard” and he’s worried his time away from school has made him “forget everything.”
“It’s really disappointing for me,” Manzanarez said. “This is supposed to be the best three months of the past 12 years of school. I had all these plans I was going to do with my friends, that bonding time with my friends. This year was supposed to be about me and my friends and what this journey was supposed to be for us.”
The speed at which his life changed is the most difficult aspect for him.
“The hardest thing is getting used to the idea that things can really be unexpected really quick,” Manzanarez said. “This whole situation, it just came out of the blue. I guess we weren’t prepared. We just thought we were only going to be out for two weeks. I could have done something better with my time if I knew this was going to happen.”
Still, he believes everything will be OK. He’s enjoying spending quality time with his family and has been reengaging in hobbies from his youth such as art. He said he’s been “taking this time to express myself.” And he’s remaining positive and grateful.
“Enjoy your time while you have it because in an instant everything can change,” he said.
Manzanarez said that Selina Lopez, of the Hispanic Liaison’s office, has been his mentor and good friend through all of this, helping him to prepare for the next step of his journey saying he is “forever grateful” to her. He also expressed gratitude to his parents for always having his “back” and supporting him. He is also grateful for his siblings because “it’s cool for them because it’s cool their older brother is going to college.”
“I’m doing this for them,” he said.
Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.