WAXHAW, NC – The last four years have posed many challenges for the Class of 2022, a group of young adults who were barely starting their second year in high school when COVID abruptly and indefinitely altered the world as we knew it. Nevertheless, these students rose to meet all the challenges life threw their way and emerged victorious: grateful for the little things, clear on their passion and purpose, and prepared to meet whatever the future holds.
For Samuel Berman, a senior at Marvin Ridge High School, one of the highlights of his senior year was serving as drum major for the Marvin Ridge Marching Mavericks. “From July to December of 2021, I got to watch more than 70 talented students create an amazing show,” says Samuel. “Out of the 7 competitions we competed in, our band won our class in 6 of them, and overall grand champions in 2 of them. We even earned the “NC Roll of Honor” award at Western Carolina University in October 2021, stating that we were the best competing band from North Carolina at this competition.”
One hallmark of this year has been the return of traditional school events that had been canceled or markedly altered for the past two years due to social distancing restrictions. Cuthbertson High School senior Alex Tsoukalas will always remember his senior Homecoming and Prom. “This year senior prom and homecoming were great!” he recalls. “Everyone had a great time, and Cuthbertson did a really nice job at putting it together for us.”
This year’s graduating classes were the first since 2019 to enjoy a fairly normal senior year; nevertheless, two years of virtual learning and other COVID-related restrictions certainly impacted these graduates’ time in high school. “COVID didn’t really affect my senior year, but it stopped a lot of social interactions during my sophomore and junior years,” says Alex. “When the lockdown first happened, I was in my sophomore year and it was tough to just be home and not have any social activities. Junior year started off mostly remote and went back to normal around the spring. We stayed home a lot even during junior year, and our football season was moved to the spring.”
For Alex, staying on task with an abundance of free time during COVID was one of the biggest challenges of high school. Yet, he’s ultimately grateful for the extra time COVID gave him with loved ones. “I see it as a blessing because I became really close with my family and friends,” says Alex. “I spent a lot of time with my family, watching shows on TV, playing games and just hanging out.”
For Samuel, COVID meant not only a disruption to his studies but also to his career in marching band. “I spent the last quarter of my sophomore year, and my entire junior year, virtually completing my assignments,” he explains. “Additionally, during my junior year, my high school had a makeshift marching band season, where we had a few practices here and there, and no competitions. When I became the senior drum major, I had to teach myself a lot of knowledge on how to lead a marching band through a normal-competition season. It was a rough task, but our band succeeded and became one of the best high school marching bands in the state of North Carolina.”
Although this year’s seniors have had a less-than-traditional high school experience, life still moves on. Lifelong soccer player Alex looks forward to playing soccer next year at Johnson and Wales, where he plans to study Sports Management in the School of Business.
Samuel’s plans are a little more unusual for a Waxhaw resident. “I plan to attend Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, and majoring in Cedar Fair’s Resort & Attraction Management,” he explains. “Why would a North Carolina senior go all the way up to Ohio?” he asks. “Well it all comes down to my passion.”
“I have a huge desire to work with the amusement/theme park industry,” explains Samuel, who has worked at Carowinds since March of 2021 and counts the experience among his most cherished memories from high school. “I would love to be in the position where I can help make decisions for future attractions for a specific park. Cedar Fair is a major amusement park operator, who happens to be the parent company of Carowinds. They have tied with Bowling Green State University to create a one of a kind program, the Resort & Attraction Management program. During the program, I will be able to complete two-paid internships at a Cedar Fair park. Once I finish this program, I’m hoping that I can end up working in a management-based position with Dollywood, or an Orlando-based park such as Universal Studios. I’m very excited for what the future has ahead for me!”
For next year’s seniors, both Alex’s and Samuel’s advice seems borne of their experience living through COVID, prioritizing relationships and experiences. “Some advice I would give to future seniors is to live in the moment and make strong and healthy connections with those around you,” says Alex, recalling the times he spent with his own family and friends during virtual learning.
“One very important thing to keep in mind is that senior year will be the final year that you will easily be able to communicate and socialize with your group of friends,” adds Samuel. “Because of this, it is very important to value your friends with the short amount of time left. Another tip that I found helpful as a senior was working a part-time job that pays good money. With good budgeting, I have been able to allocate money towards food, gas, personal expenses, and save a good chunk of money for the future. By starting to pay for things on your own, you begin to learn the responsibility of becoming an adult.”
Ultimately, Samuel encourages next year’s seniors to find and follow their passions, just like he did. “By following your passion, you will most likely find happiness and success in your life!” he encourages.
Congratulations, Class of 2022!