Bethel high school graduates reflect on how the pandemic shaped them

a student dances in a cap and gown
The Bethel Regional High School Class of 2022 presented a dance for community members at the graduation ceremony on May 21, 2022. (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)

Thirty-five seniors graduated from Bethel Regional High School last Saturday.

They had a unique high school experience: They left school as sophomores in March of 2020 and did not return to their classrooms for almost a year.

Despite missing out on some of what high school has to offer, graduating senior Haley Sundown said that distance learning had a silver lining.

“I think it really allowed us to, like, explore other options. Like, I enjoyed getting other jobs and stuff like that,” Sundown said. “But I’m actually really glad that it affected me the way it did.”

an adult gives a student a diploma
Bethel Regional High School principal Alicia Minor presents Michelle Chris with her diploma. (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)
students at graduation
The Bethel Regional High School Class of 2022. (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK) (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)
students toss their caps at graduation
The Bethel Regional High School Class of 2022 celebrates at a graduation ceremony. (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)

Fellow senior Charles Smith credited his time in online school with preparing him for college.

“It gave me a lot more time to work and grow into an adult, pretty much, while having school on the side as well,” said Smith. “So it’s a pretty good experience setting me up for college, I think.”

But for other students, like Timothy Thompson, being away from the classroom wasn’t always easy.

“The pandemic stunted my ability to focus,” he said. “But, I mean, I made it through.”

Ava Lieb echoed Thompson’s sentiments, remembering how unmotivated she felt while learning at home.

“[Distance learning] was pretty difficult to keep us motivated to do our work by ourselves,” said Lieb. “And so transitioning back into school, I think our motivation kind of was like, it wasn’t there like it was before. So that was kind of hard.”

students dance at graduation in their caps and gowns
The Bethel Regional High School Class of 2022 presented a dance for community members at the graduation ceremony. (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)
a student in a cap and gown speaks at a lectern
Student-elected speaker Joseph Smith speaks to classmates and community members. (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)

Some students said the pandemic also brought them closer together as a class, especially when they returned t in-person learning.

“Because we hadn’t seen each other for so long,” Peter Crow said. “So it kind of made senior year, like, more enjoyable because we were all around each other again.”

As far as favorite high school memories, for several students, sports were at the top of the list.

“Playing basketball in the Warrior Dome,” Crow said. “That’ll be what I missed the most for sure.”

“Our sports trips, those were all my favorite memories,” said Sundown.

As the class of 2022 prepares for their next chapters, Bethel high school principal Alicia Miner told the seniors that they would be remembered for the adversities they faced, and the precedent that they set for underclassmen.

“Thank you for making this year a lot of fun, memorable. When I look back on this year, we’ll certainly remember the fun and perseverance that the Class of 2022 has to offer,” Miner said. “Good luck Class of 2022 in all that you do. You have shown us that this is just the beginning.”

a student in a graduation grown sits in the back of a truck
The Bethel Regional High School Class of 2022 celebrates. (Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)
students in caps and graduation gowns throw candy from the back of a pickup truck
(Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)
students celebrate together in graduaton gowns
(Elyssa Loughlin/KYUK)
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