Amanda Rocha
Amanda Rocha
This is the second and final column in a series from a high school senior reflecting on what must have been the oddest school years on record.

Just before first semester finals, Valley Catholic High School informed us of the plan for second semester. With the revised restrictions on schools and the small size of the school, we would be allowed to return at long last. We went to hybrid learning, and after eight months of being stuck at home, just walking into a classroom again was a gift. Adjusting to the spaced-out desks and one-way hallways took a few days and some annoyance at having to walk three loops around the building to get to class, but the joy of being back at school balanced it out. I saw people again. People. Real people.

Of course, just as we were about to resume a normal-ish school year, February dumped an ice storm on us. There went my plans for a college campus visit. Was I disappointed? Yes. Thankfully, it was only February and I had until May 1 before I had to finalize my college decision. So, we rescheduled for spring break and prayed that no freak storm would dash Plan B.

In classes, half the people were real, and the other half remained trapped in their cells … excuse me, Zoom squares. I was once again a leader at the freshman retreat; it was odd to hold it in the spring, but it made sense to hold the on-campus, informal retreat when everyone was at school. Near the end of February, the drama director announced that the spring musical would happen and that it would be Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

There was quite a lot of squealing.

I just smiled behind my mask and put my name on the tech crew list, happy to have a senior show to close my stage manager career.

Rainy March brought a flurry of life to campus. Some days, if one ignored the masks and ubiquitous hand sanitizer, it seemed unchanged from years past. Everyone save those who opted out returned to campus. Clubs and sports were in full swing, rain or shine. The cast of “The Little Mermaid” rehearsed “en mask.” I sat by the iPad with my stage manager binder, noting entrances, exits, choreography, and scene changes. After so many months without the vibrancy of VC campus life, activities resuming marked our triumphant return.

Spring break provided a welcome reprieve from school; yes, it was wonderful to be back, but a break is always appreciated. No malevolent weather crushed my college visit plan this time, so my father and I flew out to North Dakota (or, as my friends call it, The Middle Of Absolute Nowhere) to visit the University of Mary in Bismarck. I loved the campus. I confirmed my enrollment there in late April, after talking through my criteria and my decision with my parents.

Shortly after the break ended, it was Holy Week. With churches open, we signed up for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday quicker than one could sing “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Holy Week and Easter seemed to take on more meaning this year, probably because last year’s Masses and services were relegated to a screen.

Looking back now, I don’t know how I had time to breathe from Easter Monday through Memorial Day. April was chock full of rehearsals, yearbook deadlines, studying and practice for AP exams, and meetings for Encounter, Valley’s junior retreat. Seniors served as leaders, and the meetings were Sunday evenings, apparently the only time the staff and students could set aside to hold three-hour planning sessions. For the first two weekends in May — Encounter weekend and “Mermaid” weekend — I survived on rationed sleep, coffee, prayer, and sheer willpower. The weeks were a blur, the weekends a whirlwind of incredibly exhausting, incredibly rewarding activity. Once that passed, life calmed down.

Slightly. AP exams and the unfairly massive AP English 12 paper still loomed ahead.

The College Board promised that 2021 AP exams would be the ordinary three-hours-plus exams, so we studied and practiced. Surprisingly, the exams themselves were not as stressful as I had feared, although they were challenging. AP exams passed the only obstacle standing between me and graduation was my English final. The paper was at minimum 10 pages of content, plus we had to present our chosen topic to the class. I chose to write some satirical analysis.

“Some” ended up being 15 pages. Oops. There went my sleep for the rest of May.

After I turned in the paper and spoke about parody and sarcasm to my class, there were mere days until graduation. We seniors ended classes a week before everyone else, returned all our school equipment, had a party or three, and finally, on June 13, received our diplomas.

Rocha, a graduate of Valley Catholic High School, will attend the University of Mary in North Dakota in the fall.