California teens upset they'll likely miss prom and graduation because of shelter-in-place order

Students from Oakland Tech call each other on Zoom to stay connected during the shelter-in-place. March 17, 2020

Ella Plotkin-Oren, a senior at El Cerrito High in Northern California, had no idea that last Friday would be her last day of school, perhaps for the entire year.

“It’s March,” the 18-year-old said incredulously. “I didn’t realize that Friday would be  our last day. It doesn’t feel like the end of the year, with all that nostalgic feeling.”

More than six million California students are likely feeling like Plotkin-Oren, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday that it’s likely that “few if any” of the state’s schools will reopen before summer break. He urged schoolchildren and their families to make long-term plans.

Aside from the educational challenges of learning at home, teens realize they will also be missing out on major high school milestones, memories they’ll never be able to recreate in full. 

“All through high school, I was looking forward to prom and graduation,” said Juliet Hagar, a senior at College Prep in Oakland. “And now I just feel like I won’t get these rites of passage. I don’t feel like this will be a complete circle. I’m really disappointed.” 

While she's stuck inside, Hagar is doing online learning through school, jogging by herself in her neighborhood, Face-timing her friends and making TikTok videos. On Wednesday morning, she made one of her and her cat. 

"The prom thing really sucks," said Savannah Chackerian, 18, of Oakland Tech. "It would be our last prom, where we all get together and say good bye."

But for her, not being able to walk across a stage in a public graduation ceremony will be even worse.

"You can never get that back," she said.

As of early this week, nearly the entire San Francisco Bay Area is under a legal shelter-in-place order, mandating that residents stay at home and go outside only for food, medicine and other essential needs. The order is through at least April 7. 

Over the weekend, Newsom previously told bars, restaurants, movie theaters, fitness centers and other gathering places to shut their doors as the death toll crept to 12 and the number of confirmed cases neared 500. All people 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions have been encouraged to stay indoors.

Most Bay Area schools announced two- to three-week closures last week. And many students and parents were caught offguard by Newsom's announcment of the prolonged closure during his news conference. 

Jonah Ifcher, 18, a senior at Oakland Tech High School, said that when he first found out that he’d no longer be returning to campus, he felt happy. For about a second.

“I first thought of it as having an extended summer,” Ifcher said. “But then I realized the severity of the quarantine. This isolation is such a big change. As a senior, I was staring at the ceiling, not learning much anymore. But school for me was my way of socializing.”

In the absence of in-person hangouts and parties, Ifcher is begrudgingly resorting to social media - something he had tried to get off of, calling it “unhealthy” and addictive.

Now, he’s posting and sharing videos of him dancing in his room, hanging out with his dog, even screaming.

He and his buddies also have a standing 9 p.m. Zoom conference call with about 10 friends all signing on and talking together. On Wednesday night, they plan to dress up, put on makeup and hold a “formal.” They typically talk for two to three hours, laughing and talking via video. 

He said this shelter-in-place order has made him acutely aware of the fact that he is soon going to college and that he's losing precious time with his high school friends. 

“Zoom calls are nice,” Ifcher said. “I mean, they’re something. But it’s not the same.”