Editor’s Note: Jace O’Barto is editor-in-chief of the Greater Latrobe Senior High School student news site “The High Post,” where this column originally appeared. He is the son of Dave and Buffy O’Barto.

Friday, March 13, 2020. My last day of high school. The last time that I would go to my locker right beside the person I’d had my locker next to since kindergarten, the last time I’d eat lunch with my friends in the Math Lab or the Spanish teacher’s room, the last time I’d crack a joke to the secretaries as I got the keys to work the student store, the last time I’d back into a parking spot (crooked) at 7 a.m., or the last time I’d be late for Astronomy because I was too busy having a conversation with one of the school resource officers. At that time, I didn’t know I would never get to experience all of the things that make Greater Latrobe great — ever again. Sadly, that has become the reality for myself and the other 304 students in my graduating class.

The day was odd, as all of our teachers were giving us materials for approximately two weeks of online education. Rumors of the coronavirus shutting down school were spreading, but no one really knew if we would be coming back for in-person instruction the next week. However, in true Wildcat spirit, everyone from students to staff accepted this new unknown with high hopes that we would be back in the building as soon as possible.

What was once two weeks of online instruction was now going on three, then four, then quickly it turned into the rest of the year when we got the heartbreaking news that the rest of the school year will be online because of the virus that was quickly sweeping the world.

Just like that, the lasting memories of our senior year were gone. All of the things that we had looked forward to as seniors were gone. Things such as going on the NHS (National Honor Society) Trip as a reward for academic achievement over the past four years, getting one last opportunity to make a difference in a younger student’s life by being a 6th Grade Camp counselor, getting dressed up to walk across the stage at the Grand March for prom, the senior picnic as a well deserved break during graduation rehearsal, elementary school walk-throughs in our caps and gowns, and of course, graduation.

Originally scheduled for May 28, 2020 at Rossi Field, graduation day is now in danger of being rescheduled, moved to a different location, or canceled. The day that not only students, but our loved ones have been looking forward to since our first day of kindergarten. That bittersweet feeling that your life is going to change drastically, but you know that it’s changing for the better. It’s hard to bear the thought of not being able to walk down Rossi Field on a warm May evening, through a tunnel of teachers and administrators from across the district, as the band gracefully plays the Alma Mater, and the sun sets in the background creating warm shades of orange and red in the sky. For most students, it’s the perfect ending to a 13-year run at Greater Latrobe.

That said, I could not be more proud to be a Greater Latrobe Wildcat during this time. With the administration doing everything in their power to ensure that the Class of 2020 gets the proper senior sendoff, it shows that they care. Even if that means pushing graduation to June or July, or planning a “Senior Spectacular” as one last chance for the seniors to get to see each other.

Since self-quarantine began, I’ve grown. Not only academically, but personally. Some may see this time as a curse: being stuck in the house, not being able to work or see family, especially those in elderly care facilities, or not being able to see friends, and in those aspects, it is a curse. However, I have begun to cherish this time because next year, I’ll be heading off to Penn State. While it’s only about two hours away, I may not see my family for three months or more. We are now having more family dinners, which is something that felt like it was becoming a distant memory due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, we get on each other’s nerves (like any other family), but that’s part of what being a family is all about: Being able to grow through the hard times and cherish the good times.

It’s important during times like these to find some type of a positive outlook and take your mind off whatever is going on in the world. Whether it is honing in on a skill or trade, or picking up a new hobby, there is something for everyone to find joy in. I know that in my house, we have been using our time doing things that we normally wouldn’t have time to do. We’ve been making a lot of progress in finishing our basement (that we’ve been trying to do since we moved in 12 years ago). We’ve busted out old family recipes to make homemade pasta. And my mom has even been showing my sister how to make scrunchies which was something she did with her friends when she was in high school.

Throughout high school, I have learned many lessons through life-changing experiences for me and my peers, yet I’ve definitely learned about life with a new perspective during this self-quarantine.

We came into this world on the heels of one of the greatest tragedies in American history, the 9/11 attacks. Now, 18 years later, we are being faced with the coronavirus pandemic. These two events in world history have forever impacted our lives as we have witnessed the effects of innocent people losing their lives. If anything, these events shaped us into the people who we are becoming. People who appreciate the small things, people who can quickly adapt to change, people who empathetically care for one another, and people who understand to not take a single moment for granted.

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