Anxiety and hope for class of 2020

"They can be our next generation of world changers"

John Gray High School head girl Aliyah Myers is congratulated by principal Jon Clark, with Governor Martyn Roper looking on, at a recent graduation ceremony.

Teachers and counsellors at Cayman’s high schools watched their students graduate in the midst of a pandemic with a mixture of anxiety, pride and hope for their futures.

The last academic year was far from routine, with many students sitting life-defining exams at the height of the COVID crisis.

Others saw their exams cancelled and were forced to settle for predicted grades. Many have seen university plans fall through amid travel restrictions and other impacts of the pandemic.

Jon Clark, principal of John Gray High School, said the school had achieved some of its best-ever results despite the hardships. He believes coming through a challenge like 2020 will equip these students well for whatever obstacles they face in the future.

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“We worked hard at John Gray High School to develop positive mindsets and resilience and this was used to great effect during this difficult year,” he said.

“I am so proud of what these students achieved, many sat exams early and gained the highest marks and many improved their grades and graduation classification. Much of this work was done in lockdown and the hardworking teachers, students and supportive parents all deserve credit.”

Across Cayman, students have faced a unique set of challenges this year.

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Those will continue for the Class of 2021, warns Liz Meier, a former counsellor at Cayman International School.

She said those aiming to apply to university face particular disruption, with COVID-19 creating an admissions headache both in terms of visas and the students’ ability to get the internships and extracurricular experience top universities often require.

Bill LaMonte, a teacher who helps organise the student-led Protect our Future environmental-campaign group, says young people today seem more engaged than previous generations about the challenges facing the world.

While he is proud of their commitment and activism, he is concerned about the toll on mental health from an overexposure to bad news.

“When I was their age, I simply didn’t worry about wildfires, coral bleaching, the latest social media post, a pandemic, or climate change,” he said.

Access to an abundance of information, much of it negative, has created both apathy and anxiety among young people, he believes.

And while the students he sees are often engaged and driven to make a difference, he is concerned for their wellbeing.

“With developing emotions parallel to information overload, I am highly concerned about the mental health of my students. Solution-wise, I believe we need to speak more openly about how we all are feeling and begin to normalise conversations around mental health.”

Meier said the pandemic and its associated impacts could make some students and break others.

“I still hold on to hope for the class of 2020 and 2021, that they will be our next generation of world changers and culture makers. The world will be different because they survived a pandemic, lived to tell about and sought to solve the problems that caused it or were the result of the pandemic.”

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