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High school seniors embrace 'vibrant' end of year as Long Island reopens 

To celebrate their graduation from Connetquot High School

To celebrate their graduation from Connetquot High School last year, left to right, Destiny Velez, Zareena Siddique, Cassidy Tomas and Audrey Joseph of Ronkonkoma did their own photo shoot at the beach. Credit: Audrey Joseph

Ally Weiss feels lucky.

The 17-year-old Syosset High School senior remembers all too well how the pandemic caused the Class of 2020 to sacrifice their prom and graduation ceremonies.

So instead of being disappointed by any end of the year event restrictions, she was thrilled when she found out the Class of 2021’s prom would be split into two timed cohorts on the same night and that it would be on Long Island instead of the traditional venue of Cipriani in Manhattan. "Just the fact that we have something is really nice," Weiss says, calling the plan "100% better" than last year.

Full graduation ceremonies are also in the offing for many. Huntington High School seniors, for instance, will get diplomas in Stony Brook University’s football stadium, says principal Brenden Cusack. "This year will feel a little bit more like tradition again," Cusack says.

After two tough school years, things are finally looking up, Long Island high school seniors say.

Here are ways they plan to mark their remaining rites of passage, along with some advice from members of Long Island’s Class of 2020 on ways to make the most of the rest of their school careers:

Embrace the energy.

Seniors came back to Oceanside High School in full on April 19. "The building is much more lively. The energy has been great," says principal Brendon Mitchell. William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach has also seen a resurgence of activity, says senior Joseph Mazzarella, 18, of Moriches, as people return from remote learning. "You’re seeing more faces in the hallways. The school is back to its vibrancy."

Attend outdoor school events.

Schools are holding concerts and plays outdoors to give seniors a chance to perform for an audience one last time. Oceanside, for instance, held a musical theater production on its football field on May 22; William Floyd is having its jazz band, a cappella groups and chamber orchestra perform outdoors on June 3. "That’s an event we didn’t think we were going to have at the beginning of the year, and now we can have it," says senior Lauren Andersen, 17, of Mastic Beach, who is a member of the all-female Acabellas.

Substitute a Plan B.

Some seniors are organizing their own gatherings outdoors that substitute for ones that typically would have happened at school. William Floyd, for instance, has an annual senior breakfast at school where seniors sign each other’s yearbooks. That can’t happen, so instead, seniors are planning their own unofficial "Senior Sunset" at Smith Point Beach where they can do their signing. A Plan B can also include resurrecting postponed official school events: Glen Cove High School typically has its homecoming in October; instead they had it in March, for instance.

Create memories with your friend group.

"Even though this year has been extremely difficult, I have been planning with my friends to have the best end of the year possible," says Carolina Brasiello, 17, a senior at Glen Cove High School. Four friends, for instance, made their own arrangement to do a Jones Beach sunrise together, Brasiello says. "This is something I can remember for the rest of my life." Alise Mazjane, 18, also a Glen Cove senior, says her friends have been experiencing outdoor adventures as well because they are safer, and that has caused her to explore nature more than she would have otherwise. "It was nice appreciating Earth more," she says.

Focus on your high school experience as a whole.

Audrey Joseph, 18, of Ronkonkoma, a freshman at the University at Buffalo, suggests that seniors take a lot of photos of the end-of-the-year activities, and then couple them with photos of their first two normal years of high school to make a collage. "I got to look back at all the things I did in high school," Joseph says — she ran track and field, went so school dances, participated in clubs. Her prom was canceled, but she and her friend group dressed in their prom dresses and took photographs anyway, calling it "fake prom." "Even though I missed out, I got to look back on all the things I did do and think I made the most of it possible."

Look forward to more normalcy in the fall.

Maddie Pittigher, 19, of Ronkonkoma, a freshman at Brown University, spent most of this academic year attending classes remotely from home. Students who graduated from high school in 2020 not only lost their senior year of high school; they also missed out on the freshman college experience. Things should be more normal for the Class of 2021 when they begin college in the fall, so they should hold onto this thought: "They’ll have an exciting first year," Pittigher says.

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