Students at Brockton High School had been rehearsing for the opening of their big musical, "Grease," last year when the pandemic hit.
Hannah Myriam Baptiste was a junior, and like her fellow thespians, she was crestfallen when word came that the school would close and the show would not go on.
The lights went out in more than the auditorium that day.
The classroom lights were turned off,
The light in people's hearts were blown out,
The stage now resembles a night sky,
With stars no one can identify
And a darkness that only some find beautiful.
Baptiste is 17 years old and ready to enter her senior year at Brockton High. But the day the pandemic took away what had been the focal point of her life — the musical — stays with her.
Another young writer, 16-year-old Emma Sheils, penned an essay about a loss of innocence during the pandemic.
Sheils and Baptiste spoke with WBUR's All Things Considered host Lisa Mullins.
On whether it was possible to remain optimistic:
Hannah Myriam Baptiste: "In some ways I didn't, and in some ways I did — because when it first started, we just thought that we would be out of school for about two weeks. And then we quickly realized we were wrong, because the rest of the school year was canceled. So one way I dealt with it was through my writing. So, I also write stories. My friends and I, we would always create characters. We would just have them hang out at the mall or just give them experiences that we couldn't go through — like spring musicals, sports games, or if it's, like, a fantasy world, make them fight the villain because we kind of fight the villain in our lives, which is COVID."
On missing a 9th grade semi-formal dance:
Emma Sheils: "What was important for me was that it kind of signified something for me that we were growing up. We were finally in high school. We were going to go have Chipotle after [the dance]. And it's kind of an important rite of passage, I guess you would say — like, everyone remembers our school dance, for good reasons or bad. It was just exciting for us to finally experience that. And when it got taken away, it made me feel sad, because it was kind of this loss of something that was really important to me for a little while."
On the dress she had picked out and what it signified:
Sheils: "It was a deep blue, like, kind of a fit and flare that has black flowers embroidered at the bottom. I had recently gotten my hair cut, so it kind of went together really well. And it just — it was supposed to be the night of our lives, even if it was just a freshman semiformal. And the dress was important because it made me feel like someone new. It was going to be a start of high school, even if it was the end of the year. It was going to be me as a new person, introducing myself to the world again."
On the loss of her grandfather to complications from dementia during the pandemic:
Sheils: "I think we all change through experiences, right? That's why younger people are seen as naive. They haven't lived through life as much as older people. And when you go through an experience like the pandemic or the loss of someone that you loved, it makes you reconsider life from a different perspective. So for me, I had a lot of innocence before the pandemic. I was so fixed on the school dance. And now, looking back, it's interesting to see it doesn't really seem that important anymore. Like, there are bigger things in the world that people have to deal with than a school dance. And there's bigger things that I have to deal with than a school dance. And the pandemic kind of signified a huge change for me, and especially with the loss of my grandfather. Like, that was probably the first major loss I've ever experienced."
On how they're moving forward and looking toward their futures:
Sheils: "I think I would say that it's kind of a sadder but wiser kind of moment for me ... I'm going on college tours now ... And I think in the future, I'm just excited to experience everything that we missed out on during the pandemic."
Baptiste: "I'm just looking forward to having my life back, because when the pandemic started, you didn't know if everything you left behind will be waiting for you when it ended. So when I get back to school in September, I just hope that I'll have some semblance of normal. I hope I'll be able to put on that school musical. I also think I'm going to appreciate my time more and try to get involved more and hang out with my friends more, because after this year, you really realize how much time you don't have and do have."
This segment aired on July 13, 2021.