From a one-week lockdown in February to what felt like a never-ending lockdown in August, this year couldn’t have been more hectic for Aotearoa, but especially for high school students. 

Year 13 students across Aotearoa spoke to Re: about finishing their last year of school during a pandemic. 

Cadence Chung is heading to university next year. Photo: Supplied

Cadence Chung, 18 , Wellington High School 

How was your 2021? 

Covid definitely made it a bit weird with missing quite a bit of school. We were given a lot of extensions and deadlines were quite flexible which is good. But generally it was all right. 

A lot of events were cancelled like our formal, prize-giving and music evening. 

It was kind of sad because those things are an important part of the culture of your last year of high school. It was a bit anticlimactic at the end of the year.

What was something you really enjoyed?

I was still able to put on my original musical at school just before the second lockdown happened. It was entirely student-led. We just used the venue but everything else was run by the students. It was a lot of fun but a lot of work. 

How do you feel now that you’ve finished?

It feels weird.  

I feel like I’ve been a high schooler for so long. It’s such a huge part of my identity. And now I’m just not a high schooler anymore, it feels strange. It gives me the sense that I need to step it up now, especially as an adult instead of a high schooler. 

What will you be up to next year?

I’ve been doing music since I was about 5. It’s always been something I wanted to study. So, I'll be going to the University of Victoria’s school of music. I'm planning on doing a Bachelor of Music and then two postgraduate courses. One in English and one in teaching. I want to become a Music or English teacher.

I’ve always been quite academic so everyone always assumed I would go to uni and so did I. It wasn’t really much of a question for me. 

But I know quite a few people who are taking a gap year or working first. 

How do you feel about this next chapter of your life?

I’m excited to experience new things and do a lot of art-related stuff outside of high school. 

But I’m nervous about how everything is going to go. High school has been my life for so long that I’m not sure how uni even works or what sort of people will be there. 

It’s a bit of a leap into the unknown but exciting. 

Grace Chen says the hardest thing about lockdown has been the isolation. Photo: Supplied

Grace Chen, 18, Westlake Girls Head Girl 2021

What’s been a memorable accomplishment for you this year? 

The main project I worked on at school was getting pads in school as part of our uniform. I was collaborating with the diversity group who have been asking for pads for years. It was quite a long process but we got there in the end. 

How was your last year of high school?

The biggest struggle with lockdown this year was isolation [and] not being able to see your friends the way you normally would. Especially in our last year of high school, we’re never going to see half these people again once we graduate. It was difficult to go through lockdown all alone.  

How do you feel now that you’ve finished?

It’s a bit scary — very scary actually! Our cohort has dealt with Covid two years in a row now. 

It’s had an impact on our learning, especially with the Unexpected Event Grade (UEG) system that allowed students to skip their exams at the end of the year.  

Personally I feel like I’ve forgotten all my knowledge of level 3 already because I haven’t had to sit those exams. 

Now going into uni I’m a bit worried because I realise I have to completely get my brain going again next year because it stopped working back in August when lockdown started.

Did your school offer you any advice for this next chapter of your life? 

It wasn’t really advice but more just asking what I’ll be doing next year and what university I want to go to. I know a lot of other students struggled with this as well. Because of lockdown there was no proper individualised counselling. It was always very busy and quick. 

The general advice we get doesn’t actually end up helping. 

It’d be great to talk to students who are already in university. That student-to-student connection would be a lot more helpful and honest.  

What will you be doing next year?

I’ll be going to the University of Auckland next year, doing a conjoint in law and computer science. I’m excited but I’m also quite nervous. It’s a totally new world and high school didn’t give us as much because of Covid. 

But I’m super excited for this next chapter.

Floyd Marsden says "you don’t need to know what you’re doing immediately. The whole point is you go on your own journey to figure out what you want to do". Photo: Supplied

Floyd Marsden,17, Wellington High School

How was your last year of high school?  

It was definitely the hardest year in school, which I said last year too. Coming off the bigger lockdown we had in 2020, my progress academically got stunted through that. And then of course there was another lockdown and a lot of stuff got crammed into one week.  

There were periods of time where I’d have five assessments all due around the same time. It was incredibly challenging with the added pressure of this being the final year.

What did you most enjoy?  

It was the first time I’ve taken music academically. I was self-taught before that so I was kind of scared going into it. The students in that class had been there for four years already and were pretty established and they know everything. I was worried I’d be out of place but everyone was super welcoming and I ended up loving that class.  

Now that you’re all done, how do you feel?

For a while after school ended, I felt dissociated.  

It’s been a 13-year routine of doing the same thing every day and suddenly that was gone. 

I wasn’t immediately working or studying, so it felt surreal. Everything just stopped and disappeared. 

I’ve been trying to regain and build a new routine. It’s been challenging but also quite exciting at the same time. 

What are your plans now that you’re done?

I was planning to go to the UK in February. I wanted to see if I could get a job in music or radio. Then of course Covid happened again, so it’s not going to happen in February. But it’s still my goal. 

Plan B is to get there through applying to university. 

Personally, I’m not a fan of university. To me, it’s mostly a money-making scheme for those higher up. I’m not a fan of doing that — it’s an outrageous amount of money. The only reason I’m considering it is because it’s the only way to get into where I want to live.

How do you feel about this next chapter? 

It’s probably just a product of living in a capitalist society but we’re in this space where we’re told we have to work or go to university or make money. So it’s a lot of pressure on us suddenly but it’s also exciting to finally have independence and live your own life without being tied to the authority of school. 

Anything you’re worried about starting this new chapter? 

For a while I was so worried about not having a plan and not immediately knowing what I want to do as soon as I leave. But honestly that’s kind of bullshit. 

You don’t need to know what you’re doing immediately. The whole point is you go on your own journey to figure out what you want to do. I know so many people who are so caught up in knowing what they want to do. You don’t need to know. You can just live your life.  

I’ve got like 90 years ahead of me. There is no rush. To rush this life is to give up its meaning.

Zaina Afzal, second from the left, says growing up in a South Asian household, there's an expectation you will go to university after high school.

Zaina Afzal, 17, Avondale college

How did this year go for you?

At the beginning, I was pretty excited with it being my last year. 

We had that first lockdown at the beginning of the year so we were a little bummed. It was short though so after that everything was back to normal. 

Then this last lockdown is where everything went downhill.  

My friends and I didn’t get the grades we wanted because distance learning is so difficult. You can’t ask the same questions you normally would, you have to email and sometimes you forget. 

We couldn’t get the same feedback. There was even an assessment where half the class failed. 

The Unexpected Event Grades (UEGS) came in really handy. We were really over it. A lot of us got Achieved grades and we couldn’t be bothered trying to improve it. 

Most people didn’t show up to exams [and] the rooms were half empty.  

How did the year impact you?

It was so tough honestly. We were expecting to have such a good final year. We were bummed all our plans that we’ve been hoping for since year 9 [had fallen over]. 

Even when we got two weeks at the end to do what we wanted, it was so rushed. You couldn’t sit with your friends like normal. You had to social distance and all that. 

Did you receive support from your school throughout lockdown?

My lockdown was quite difficult — my mum was having major surgery so I was looking after her.  

Then I also ended up getting into an accident which put me in the ER for a day which was hectic. But the school was quite supportive throughout this period and gave me extensions so I was really grateful for that.  

What will you be doing next year?

I’m waiting to hear back from the University of Auckland but I got into AUT doing molecular genetics and psychology. 

It was a given for me to go to university. I looked into a couple alternatives here and there but nothing stood out to me.  

Also, I come from a South Asian household and the attitude is ‘if you don’t go uni then what else will you do?’ so it really was a given. 

Was there anything you wish the school had done differently?

They should teach us more university-related content like AP referencing, for example. We never got taught that. They will expect you to do it [at university] and if it’s not done properly they take marks off. You need someone to help you do it so you know what you’re doing. 

I feel like they should put up better resources for us and at a slower pace. It’d be great if the departments could communicate with each other so our assessments aren’t all at the same time and as dense. 

How do you feel now?

I’m slightly bummed about how we finished school but I’m also happy because I’m now heading to university. It'll be a new chapter and it’s exciting.

Top Image: Student raises hand in classroom. Photo: iStock. (File photo)

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