While it certainly wasn’t the end to senior year expected by Moorestown High School valedictorian Jonah Miller and salutatorian Emily Tsai, the final chapter doesn’t take away from their journey to the top of the class.
Both students said that despite COVID-19 upending the school year, their time at MHS has left them with moments, memories and an education they’ll carry with them into their next chapter.
When Miller first walked through the high school doors, he took himself very seriously, thinking that academic work had to be his top priority and that it would take the bulk of his energy. At times, that decision came at the expense of enjoying his time at Moorestown.
As Miller prepares to leave, he said the biggest takeaway from his time there is that he can work hard, have goals and enjoy fulfilling experiences outside the classroom as well.
“High school is more than an academic experience,” he added.
Miller said the people at MHS were also what made his experience there special. He recalled that as he headed into his senior year, he started to fully realize that his high school experience was ephemeral, and it gave him a new appreciation for the people he spent his time with. Miller plans to keep in touch with his closest friends, but there’s a circle of people he only saw at school that he won’t see anymore.
“Those people, I’ll miss,” he admitted.
Miller will also miss the sense of unity cultivated by the school. Pep rallies, for instance, created a palpable sense of energy and spirit among classmates, with 300 or more students cheering for a common goal.
Tsai said from the beginning of her time at MHS, the people also set the tone for her experience, particularly teachers. While her primary interest is in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), some of her favorite courses wound up being history, English and Latin. She attributes that directly to her teachers, who she said are focused on more than just grades and have a clear passion for the material they’re conveying to students.
But teachers weren’t the only ones to leave a lasting impression.Tsai said she’ll miss her group of friends most of all, and that MHS is home to students unlike any other.
“I think that Moorestown has a really special community, full of kind, compassionate people that really care about what they’re doing,” she added. “I’m lucky to find that group of friends.”
Tsai was an active member of the community. She spent her time outside the classroom participating in MHS clubs, serving as one of the senior chairs for Moorestown’s annual Acapella for Autism fundraiser and as president of the Honors and Service Society. She was also involved in tutoring and was the business lead for Moorestown’s robotics team, the Combustible Lemons.
Tsai admits there was a small degree of upset when in-person schooling came to an unexpected end in March as a result of COVID-19, but she and her classmates understand it was for the greater good.
“I think at first a lot of us felt very disappointed with the way it ended,” she noted. “As time went on, we knew what was happening; it wasn’t in anyone’s control. It was a necessary sacrifice to save lives. Comparatively, losing senior year hasn’t been too bad.”
Tsai said the pandemic underscored the idea of little moments that stand out. Whether it was driving to school, walking to class or spending lunch together, it was the in-between moments at MHS that mader her time there special.
The pandemic reinforced Tsai’s choice of career path. She plans to attend Harvard University in the fall, where she’ll study neuroscience as part of her pre-med studies. She hopes to one day become a doctor. Watching health care professionals dedicate their lives to others during the pandemic has been really special to witness, she said.
Miller is headed to Georgetown University in the fall but not yet certain of his plans, despite strong interest in international relations and social justice.
He believes that to date, there’s been no real sense of closure for the class of 2020. When they left school back in March, Miller and his fellow students were under the impression they’d return after a short period. At no time did they feel the closure would mark the last time in their MHS classrooms.
For that reason, Miller was excited to hear that MHS is working on an in-person graduation ceremony.
“It’s a moment of closure that we didn’t really get,” Miller said.
Despite missing out on the year’s senior events, he added, the road ahead is still bright for the MHS class of 2020.
“The seniors at Moorestown High School, I think we’re going to be okay despite this kind of being a disappointing ending,” Miller stated. “We’re going on to bigger things.
“Looking back in 10 [or] 20 years, that’s what’s important.”