COVID-19 and the Class of 2020: Fairfax Co. graduate was forced into a big adjustment

The second in a series by WTOP’s Kate Ryan on local high school seniors and how they’re coping with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the end of their school careers.

Student: Andrea Darmawan, 18
School: Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax, Virginia
Future: University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Intended major: Political science

On one level, having to stay at home and take part in distance learning wasn’t a big deal for Andrea Darmawan, 18, a senior at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County, Virginia: “I’m an introvert by nature,” she said, “so I have not been too upset, to be honest.”

But it did have its challenges. For one, she said, “I struggle with being productive at home,” and the structure of being in school helped her stay focused.

The other challenge was that Darmawan is blind, and having software that could meet her needs was critical.

Darmawan said she was lucky: One teacher had the foresight to get “all the blind and visually impaired students at our school together to test the software.” They did find some bugs that would have made the software unusable. “It could have been worse,” she said with a laugh.

Like every high school senior, Darmawan dreamed of hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” at her graduation ceremony, crossing a stage and collecting her diploma.

WTOP's Kate Ryan talks with a senior at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County on the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

She recalled in previous years watching livestreams of her friends’ graduations and thinking “Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to be that person! I can’t wait to be up on that stage, and they’re going to be saying my name and they’re going to have everyone clapping for me and it’s going to be so great!”

Then along came the coronavirus. “And then it was, ‘Oh well, nope.’”

COVID-19 and the Class of 2020

Graduation was scheduled for June 3, and there will be a photo opportunity for students, but Darmawan said, “It’s kind of anti-climactic, really.”

For her, the effects of the pandemic could last well past high school: Her first-choice college was Emerson, in Boston, and she was accepted there. But she knew she needed to visit the school before enrolling, to determine whether it would be a good fit, especially from a logistical point of view.

Andrea Darmawan. 18, of Fairfax County, said she had to change her college of choice because travel was curtailed due to the pandemic. (Courtesy Andrea Darmawal)

The plan was to fly up with her mother and take advantage of an orientation. That’s when the coronavirus pandemic struck: Virginia’s stay-at-home order went into effect, and travel would mean a 14-day quarantine in Boston, which wasn’t feasible.

So, the decision was made to attend the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, where she’ll study political science. And her future looks bright. She was thrilled to hear that the school plans on having classes on campus — she won’t have to settle for distance learning.

“I need to be there,” she said. Besides, having to pay for a college education but take lessons online “negates the whole experience.”

She said her teachers have prepared her to head off to college — and have helped her push herself. One teacher, in particular, Ms. Bremer, nudged her “out of my comfort zone.”

She also described Mr. Ruiz and Ms. Marker as inspirational, passionate about their subjects and supportive of their students.

“As a student with a disability, I always feel like I’m kind of a burden,” Darmawan said, “because I have accommodations that teachers need to fulfill.”

She said she felt supported at Robinson, but that wasn’t always the case.

Darmawan was born in Indonesia, and attended school there for a year before coming to the United States.

“I come from a country where people with disabilities don’t have many rights,” she said. “You’re supposed to manage on your own.”

She’s managing plenty as it is, as the coronavirus is directing a major part of the course of her life.The loss of her graduation and the change in her college plan are behind the advice she gives for others affected by the pandemic: “That’s just the lesson I have, I guess: Just keep in mind that things aren’t always going to work out the way you imagined.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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