A Little COVID-19 Hope from Recent Taft Graduates


Photo by Mark Ralston via Getty Images

The sudden hit of COVID-19 in early March stripped our 2020 Graduates of their culminating activities and forced them to start college amidst a deadly pandemic. Kimia Abbassi and Kayla Chalabi, two Taft alumni who have progressed to UCLA and UC Berkeley respectively, have had similar, yet different experiences, and have advice to share with current seniors.

As time passed last spring, seniors became frustrated because of the uncertainty of their return to school. With the virus continually getting worse, their sights on graduation, prom, and other end of the year activities began to anxiously fade. Dr. Ludmila De Faria, Florida State University psychiatrist, said on NPR that seniors were “mourning the loss of important developmental milestones they were supposed to be doing at this time in their lives.”

Kimia and Kayla both attest to this feeling, as their high school fantasy endings were torn apart and their yearning to celebrate the closing of a major piece of their lives was crushed. After attending four straight graduations starting with her older brother, Kimia looked forward to the moment she crossed the stage with her family and friends cheering her on. Kayla felt robbed of the reward for the sacrifices she made in preparation for college: a stress free culmination of valued relationships and special memories.

In a message to the Taft Class of ‘21, who’s own culmination experience is still uncertain, Kimia and Kayla have advice to share: It’s important to realize that COVID is not just going to disappear, so having unrealistic expectations may harm you more than help. With the unpleasant reality that senior year was spent entirely behind a computer and will continue as such until the end, Kimia stresses to “give yourself time to be sad; it’s okay.”
As if losing the end of senior year wasn’t bad enough, Kimia and Kayla were forced to enter Zoom University. In a New York Times study on college freshmen amid the pandemic, writer Marie Fazio says “This year (2020 school year), psychologists and other experts fear that the necessary precautions taken by colleges and universities, many of them coronavirus hot spots, will increase [the] loneliness and isolation.”

With both UCLA and UC Berkeley being in hot spots, Kimia and Kayla experienced the hardships of being denied access to campus. Making friends was quite the challenge, as many intro classes were pre-recorded and others consisted of a large group of muted students behind black screens. The isolation drove them to a point where they struggled to find the motivation to get involved in the online community and clubs. The classroom dynamics also made for little student-professor interaction, disappointing students like Kimia and Kayla hoping to craft durable relationships with their professors.

However, instead of suppressing their emotions and focusing on things out of their control, accepting their feelings and making an effort to reach out to people gave Kimia and Kayla better clarity and confidence. Following their lead will keep you from getting stuck in a rut and keep your mind active.

If you start college amidst tough COVID restrictions, Kimia and Kayla urge you to take advantage of all online interactive opportunities, no matter how uncomfortable they seem. It’s helpful to remember that all the students around are in the same boat, which makes for a very embracing environment.
This semester, Kimia is still unfortunately isolated at home, but Kayla was allowed back on campus. She happily expresses, “Moving to Berkeley sparked a dramatic and immediate shift in my mental health, as spending time with new friends and exploring my independent nature on campus has decluttered my mind.”

This past year has been tough for everyone, and Taft students are all going to have to hold on a little longer. Kayla and Kimia’s experiences remind Taft seniors that they are not alone, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.