When Plans Change

Rebekah Pouw

Politics, the weather, or a potential conflict – watching the news has never really been my thing. It’s possible that my family’s constant encouragement to always be reading or outside has had a lasting impact on me. I’ve only ever been exposed to news through classmates’ gossip and the occasional study project. 

But 2020 was my final year of school. That year, the news had a significant impact. 

As the end of 2019 drew near, everyone—including me—could only talk about how 2020 would be our year. The year that would change everything. We all outlined our goals and aspirations for our graduating class, how we would go starting the new scoring system of ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank), along with the changes that our leadership would bring to the school community. 

2020 was going to be our year, the one where everything would be wonderful, the one that we would make our own. 

And then the chaos began: COVID-19, the virus that swept the world into disaster, an outbreak of fear and distrust. In turn, it threw a rock at our perfect 2020. 

Queensland was one of the last states to be affected by the virus. School began normally, with my grade starting the year ready to use all the ideas we had come up with in 2019. All throughout February and March, we adjusted well to our new roles and began the new ATAR system. When the first infection happened in Queensland, that routine ended. we had adapted to and began the time for lockdowns and online schooling. 

When our school announced that students had to stay home and use Zoom and Microsoft Teams to study and communicate with our teachers, there was a mixed reaction from my grade. Half of us were delighted to be off from school, while others, like me, feared how it would affect our academic score. 

Through April and June, our school had a mix of online learning and face-to-face class time. Everyone’s mental health, not just our grade’s, had begun to go significantly downhill since we started at-home learning. It was harder for kids to get the help they needed with homework and assignments. It became extremely hard to stay on topic in each class, as teachers struggled to help the students falling behind, while the others did their own thing. 

I was personally concerned about the social aspect of online learning – because there was none! Socialising was extremely limited, especially with every new rule being put in place one after another. Academic morale fell so low that both the ATAR board of directors and our school board decided to cut one of our assessments that went towards our ATAR score. This allowed our class the freedom to experiment, adapting our original 2020 plans to our new, constrained position that year. We wanted the opportunity to rebuild our damaged relationships, to reconnect with our classmates face-to-face. 

July holidays came and went. Before we knew it, we were in the last semester, time for our last assessments, the beginning of final exams and, most anticipated of all, our Grade 12 formal. 

Our annual school dance had been passed around for all the beginning of the year, the teachers debating on whether we would actually be allowed to go ahead with it. Finally, the Queensland government announced that if a school were to host the formal event, it could go ahead if they followed regulations. One of those rules: no dancing at risk of potential infection. 

But that didn’t discourage any of us. 

It was our year, and we weren’t going to let any rules change the memories of our year. 

Our school’s vice and school captains created a planning committee of students and teachers, who went around gathering ideas to make the restricted event as memorable for us as possible. Due to the restrictions, parents of students weren’t allowed to come watch; the only viewers allowed were the teachers and Grade 11 students. 

The solution? Our school created a livestream for everyone who could not make it. 

The night itself was beautiful, held in a marquee shining with fairy lights, a glowing hot air balloon in the background. Our school had created a whimsical scene, giving us features that normally would not be offered at a post-COVID formal. Without dancing, we talked about how crazy the year had been, watching the night end with a brilliant fireworks display. But we also remembered what was left: final exams and then graduation. 

With term four, the pressure was on for our final exams. As the first Grade 12s to use ATAR, our results were watched from all over the country, another stressful addition on our already affected mental state. Each test was changed even further due to new government rules. We had to arrive and leave at certain times, and make sure we were always distanced 1.5 metres apart. 

Once exams were completed, my grade floated for the remaining month, enjoying events like dress-up for Book Week, and spending our classes discussing our favourite times throughout high school. Mainly though, it was saying goodbye to our teachers, the people that had been with us through this time, had taught us everything that they could, getting us ready to go out into a world of unknowns. After all, just like us, they had done their best in a year filled with uncertainty. 

It was an emotional day when we graduated. The whole school, now all back on campus, came out to send us off. Friends from younger grades, old and current teachers were all there, so eager to see us and yet reluctant to say goodbye. We all walked through our old campus, our last day of school, cries and tears of farewell following us. The weight and the meaning of that day finally hit us. 

That night, we received our graduating certificates. It was the hardest part, as if we were not just saying goodbye to classmates but to the people we had grown up with, the person who had gone through the same 2020 experience.  

Looking back, despite all the chaos that 2020 had given us on both our academic and mental states, we had gotten through it together.

Author: Rebekah Pouw is a 3rd year creative writing student. She loves writing stories especially in the fantasy genre. She also loves dabbling in mythology writing stories based on them.

Artist: Zoe Hawker is a multi-disciplinary student artist working with sculpture, installation, and painting. Her self-reflexive practice aims to decode the absurdities of our current culture.

Editors: Brock Scholte and Rory Hawkins