Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

The last day: Final moments on campus


Rachel’s last day

My final moments at Paly should have consisted of yearbook signings and sunny, quad-side spikeball tournaments; a day with no pants, a grade-wide trip to the beach and green grad caps. From the smallest interactions with classmates to the most memorable senior-year milestones, that last, bittersweet stretch of high school leading up to the biggest transition of my life would grant me closure — enough to say goodbye to the people I’m closest to and the place I’ve called home for the past four years. 

Instead, on March 13, two-and-a-half months earlier than planned, I took a 20 minute physics quiz before being shunted off to the nurse’s office, and got sent home by 9 a.m. What started off as a normal, tedious, TGIF school day would fatefully — and abruptly — turn into my last. 

My morning routine that Friday was the same as always: groggily scrambling out of bed at 7:50 a.m. and absentmindedly driving to school, one hand on the wheel and one holding a piece of toast for breakfast. As always, I was greeted by an energetic Mr. Hu, the student teacher in my physics class, in the doorway of room 1701, before sitting next to my best friend, Zoe. 

What started off as a normal, tedious, TGIF school day would fatefully — and abruptly — turn into my last.

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For obvious reasons (on top of the fact that we’ve been out of school for the past few months), I don’t remember what my quiz was on or really how the rest of the class went. But next thing I knew, Mr. Lupoli was asking me to go to the nurse’s office to seek “professional medical attention.”

Yes, I’d been coughing. Nobody knew where it came from, but it was clear I wasn’t actually sick as I’d been healthy in every other aspect. Though gone now, the cough had persisted for over two months — it wasn’t until that week that people started to care. 

It was my first trip to the nurse’s office in my entire time at Paly, so at the very least, it was one more thing to check off my bucket list before graduating. I ran into Mr. Bloom — my Social Justice Pathway teacher and advisor — on the way, and we joked about me getting sent home. Little did I know how real that would become in the next five minutes.

Mrs. Kleckner, the nurse, checked my temperature as I coated my hands in hand sanitizer. After being asked a few questions, I was told it was just a “residual cough,” that I did not have a fever and that I wasn’t contagious. Yet campus security was called to collect my things from the classroom before escorting me out to the parking lot. 

Half laughing, half shocked, I called my mom as I turned onto El Camino Real, explaining why I was coming home. By the time I got there, I was too caught up in writing Verde’s breaking news story on the official school closure announcement to really be able to process what had just happened. 

To be completely honest, I don’t remember much else about that day. I wasn’t able to go to lacrosse practice because of the cough, missing what turned out to be the last time the team would be together in person. Peers were already talking about obscure hobbies they wanted to take up during their time off; some even celebrating the cancelation of work they were procrastinating on. My closest friends had our first Zoom call that night, the beginning of my newfound virtual social life. 

In no way am I an outwardly emotional person, which has proven to be very confusing for me during this time of grief and uncertainty. I’m not like a lot of my peers who have been visibly upset and I haven’t actually come close to crying, though I really feel like I need to. Regardless, I’m extremely nostalgic and sentimental, so reflecting on the fact that I’m missing my fourth quarter of senior year has, at times, physically hurt. I’m constantly torn between feeling angry at the world, content with this strange sense of freedom that’s come with so much time on my hands, and just pure sadness. This experience is something I can’t wrap my head around. 

I wish more than anything to be with the class of 2020 right now, to have danced our hearts out at prom together, to take four years worth of paperwork and toss it in the air alongside each other, to wear my uncomfortably warm camo pants one last time. Yet simultaneously, I don’t know if I could actually go back to Paly after all this. I’m in this weird limbo stage between high school and college, unable to really move forwards or backwards. 

So, I try to reminisce instead of wish. 

I miss driving a car with all seven seats filled, stereo blasting throwbacks, to go on our next midnight adventure after beating Gatos in basketball. I remember the chaotic joy surrounding spirit week; lost voices, spray paint-stained hands, best dressed titles and too many Shrek jokes. I treasure the small moments; the free candy in the College and Career Center, intramural volleyball games, Jesus Camp documentaries, late night production shenanigans and surrounding myself with those I love.

Not being able to have those “lasts” I’ve been looking forward to is heartbreaking to say the least, but it doesn’t destroy the memories I’ve already made. It doesn’t invalidate the experiences I’ve had or the opportunities I’ve gained. It doesn’t make me forget the people I’ve come to lean on as we’ve grown up together, both throughout high school, and now, this.

Kate’s last day

Pulling into the parking lot on the morning of March 13, nothing felt out of the ordinary. I was almost late, an unfortunate second semester habit. Little did I know, it would be my last day of high school.

As the bell rang for lunch, the news broke: school was cancelled starting the following Monday. In a matter of seconds, the entire student body knew about this development, and the unprecedented announcement didn’t feel real. Although our swim meet that afternoon had been cancelled, our coach insisted that we still come for pizza on the pool deck, and I am glad he did because it ended up being our last gathering of the sort. 

I licked my greasy fingers on my walk into Verde, my next class, during which I half- heartedly listened to everyone digest the situation while helping my friend make a TikTok, which now serves as evidence of my unorthodox last day of high school. 

My last Paly swim practice happened the next day. I stood on deck as it began to rain, watching with watery eyes as my teammates did flips off the diving board and played frisbee in the pool. I will cherish that memory of my team, along with the countless others I have made with them over the course of the last 3.5 years. I loved being one of their captains and am grateful for all the lessons the role has taught me.

The campus that used to make my heart race due to its complexity, bustling student body, and seemingly non-navigable maze of buildings now feels small.

A couple weeks later, the team got together on Zoom for a digital senior night. Instead of standing on the blocks holding roses and proudly announcing to the spectators where we were going to college next year, we shared stories with each other from our bedrooms. Everyone cried. It didn’t feel right to be apart on a night that senior members had looked forward to since we were freshmen. 

All the traditions, potential friendships, memories and personal growth I am missing out on everyday as a fourth quarter senior makes my heart hurt. I love Paly, and I always will. But even when I biked to Paly to sit on the quad that day school was cancelled to think about all the time I had spent there on grass, it already didn’t feel like I belonged on campus anymore. 

The campus that used to make my heart race due to its complexity, bustling student body, and seemingly non-navigable maze of buildings now feels small. I wish I could go back for one more perfect mid-spring day, stand on the pavement in a tight circle with my friends by the deck at brunch, attend my third period prep book club at Peet’s and even get one more sunburn during swim practice. 

I want to race in relays with my teammates, cheer for them behind the blocks, and dance and sing in the locker room after practice. I want to blow one more bubble ring off the bottom of the pool, eat one more mid-practice snickers bar. I even miss the typically dreaded 100 100s, an annual practice during which we swim six miles. I want to enjoy one more Oscars Band Tribute Band Tribute Band live performance, get coffee after school with my friends or get a book recommended to me by librarian Ms. Thomas. 

I want to yell “Hi!” to my younger sister across campus once more, or see her walking with her friends, knowing that she is growing up to be someone truly remarkable. While I know she no longer needs me to show her the way, I will miss little things like singing along to the radio as we drive to school together.

What I want most now is a yearbook chalk full of signatures and smiley faces from friends and teachers as a tangible memory to look at when I’m older. While I don’t know if I’ll end up getting that — maybe I’ll have to wait for our December graduation ceremony — I do know that the countless memories and friendships I’ve made at Paly will stay with me for a long time.

Collective final thoughts

From Rachel’s first story partner dropping out of Verde three weeks into the year, to one of Kate’s early stories being ruthlessly edited (to the point of no return), we’ve come a long way. Our time on staff has taken us to the nooks and crannies of the Mission District, puppy play dates at local animal shelters, and of course, the lab, where we can be found consuming lethal amounts of Trader Joe’s mini peanut butter cups. 

Verde has been a catalyst for the two of us in many ways — growing our leadership skills, journalism prowess and most importantly, our friendship. Though we didn’t get a proper send-off in the form of directing our last issue as MEICs, couldn’t plant secret Easter eggs within the ad pages and didn’t laugh along to one last Verdudes performance, this publication will always hold a special place in our memories of Paly. As time marches on, we will both forge our own separate paths with the tools this class has taught us. But no matter where we go, our time on Verde will always be something that we share and that keeps us connected for years to come. See y’all in December!


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