What Now?

The New Reality of Education Is No Pomp, All Circumstance

Maggie Stanton, senior at St. Mary’s Academy, on living through history.

Edited by Conner Reed June 1, 2020 Published in the June 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Maggie Stanton’s generation has been bookended by tragedy: born in the months surrounding 9/11, she and her peers are preparing to graduate from high school in the middle of a global pandemic. Oh, yeah—and they started high school two months before the 2016 election. As her decidedly nontraditional senior year at St. Mary’s Academy winds down and she navigates an uncertain college entrance process, Stanton’s on somewhat unsteady footing—but that doesn’t mean she’s light on wisdom.

Things change. Fast.

“We had a lot of ominous meetings in class where teachers were like, ‘Here’s the homework for next class, who knows if we’ll be here.’ It seemed like something that we were all preparing for, but no one was actually expecting, you know? Some of my friends were like, ‘Oh, I’m writing letters to my teachers because it’s the last time I’ll see them before we graduate,’ and I was one of those people that was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so stupid. We’re coming back. Stop being dramatic.’ So I was kind of in denial. Now I regret not cherishing those last few days that I could have.”

It’s hard to feel your feelings with bigger tragedies breathing down your neck.

“[When I heard we wouldn’t be coming back to school] I felt confused. And a little nervous about what that would mean for me and my future. But I also felt like I wasn’t valid in feeling that way. It’s like that Kim Kardashian meme, ‘People are dying.’ You’re not dying, your senior year kind of got wrecked, but in comparison, it’s not that bad. A lot of people I know have been struggling with feeling sad but not wanting to show it.”

Living through history has its perks.

“Every major event in my life has had some sort of worldwide drama associated with it. It’s hard to be thought of as the class where everything bad happened, but also, it’s kind of legendary at the same time. My dad keeps saying how people will be sad for the class of 2020, but, also, we’ll be more remembered.”

Solid structures aren’t so solid, after all.

“Suddenly my AP exams are online, and shorter, and some of them moved. Things that I thought I could never escape from are suddenly being really flexible. The college system, too: some schools aren’t asking for testing and things like that. It’s weird, things I took so seriously now seem pretty trivial ... like why am I doing Spanish 4 when I’m not going to do it in college and people are dying?”