Virtual Connections: HM seniors continue reflections online

Lucas Glickman and Teddy Ganea

Senior reflections have been a part of the school since 2017, and despite the current pandemic, Upper Division Library Department Chair Caroline Bartels does not want the seniors to lose out on the opportunity to reflect on who they are, she said. In the past years, the faculty understood the importance of senior reflections, and therefore, it is important that they continue, especially in tough times like these, Bartels said. 

Ideally, the senior reflections would be shared live or on a virtual meeting to provide a sense of pre-quarantine school life, Bartels said. However, because Zoom can only hold so many people in a meeting, the senior reflections will be prerecorded and shown during weekly advisory meetings and at the closing assembly, she said.

The senior reflections are coordinated by English Teacher Dr. Adam Casdin, who sends out emails to the senior class asking if any of them would be interested in giving a reflection. Casdin said that his rule of thumb is to stay out of the students’ work, as he does not want to manipulate their work or change their form of self-expression. Whenever a senior comes to meet with Casdin, he usually explains to them roughly the same thing. No matter how unique their situation seems, there is always going to be someone else out there in the audience going through the same thing, he said. This reflection is not for their friends but for “that ninth-grader in the audience,” who is just coming to terms with who they are, Casdin said.

Casdin also said that the reflections are most powerful when given live, as it allows the audience to better connect with the presenter. That dynamic will change now that the reflections are pre-recorded, he said.

For seniors, the process of writing a reflection is an impactful experience, as they have the chance to learn more about themselves while reminding the audience that the community will always be there for them, Isabella Zhang (12) said. Senior reflections are also a crucial way to give feedback to the school’s administration and sometimes the student body as well, Jayla Thomas (12) said.

Part of a reflection is learning how to feed off the crowd’s energy, as it empowers the presenter and allows the speaker to hold the audience’s attention, Thomas said. Now, she believes that recording the presentation alone on a computer will detract from this key part of the presentation.

On the plus side, pre-recording the reflection allows the presenter to restart if a mistake is made, Thomas said. Nevertheless, she said that the negatives of presenting online outweigh the positives as it makes it harder to reach the audience. “When you’re listening to a senior reflection in person you don’t really have the chance to ignore it,” she said.

At first, Thomas did not think she was going to give a senior reflection. Halfway through the year, though, she decided that she wanted to give one on her experience acclimating to life at the school, as others had not really asked her about it, she said. While she regrets not deciding to give her senior reflection earlier in the year, before the shift to HM Online, she believes that reflecting on her experience at the school will still be worthwhile both for herself and the larger school community.

Before HM Online, everyone was required to listen to senior reflections in-person, Zhang said. Now, although attending senior reflections may be mandatory, the online platform makes it far easier for the audience to tune out as the school has no way of ensuring that students pay attention, she said. As a result, Zhang said that fewer people will listen to and embrace her senior reflection; the students and faculty who do choose to listen, however, will be more attentive and are more likely to be inspired by the reflection, she said. Because of this, she does not consider the shift online to be a major detriment to the quality of the experience.

In fact, the quarantine has given her more time to adjust and refine her senior reflection, she said. Zhang had been planning on giving a senior reflection prior to the quarantine, but due to the current situation, she sees it as important to incorporate how she has grown as a person, as that is a significant aspect of her reflection, she said. 

Due to the current situation, Casdin has noticed that many students who were at first enthusiastic about giving senior reflections have failed to follow through. Prior to spring break, many seniors had expressed a desire to give a reflection to him, as their college application process would soon be over, they would have more time to focus on a reflection. While he does have several students currently working on their reflections, fewer seniors have followed through. Two weeks after the school’s closure, he emailed the seniors but felt that it was too soon, and he will be sending out another round of emails shortly to find other students who want to give a senior reflection. More often than not, after hearing a strong reflection, more seniors come to Casdin, wanting to give their own, Casdin said.

Aiming to end the school year with a sense of normalcy, Bartels is planning the annual end-of-year closing assembly, which will include at least four or five senior reflections, she said. Students will likely attend the closing assembly on Google Meet, and, just as in advisories or assemblies, all of the components will have been pre-recorded. Student Body Presidents Roey Nornberg (12) and Isha Agarwal (12) will host the assembly and talk in between the senior reflections, awards, performances, as well as the moving-up ceremony at the assembly’s end, where students transition into the next grade level, Bartels said. 

The nature of a senior reflection is that they are never all about one thing in particular, but instead share who the speaker is, Bartels said. Therefore, Bartels does not want to make the speakers focus on a specific theme, as she does not want it to sound calculated. As a result, it is highly unlikely that speakers will talk only about their quarantine experiences, Bartels said.

“A reflection is meant as a way of getting to know each other as a community,” Casdin said. A reflection on the pandemic will definitely be needed, but it may be too soon to reflect, he said.