Back in early February I got the chance to have a very informal conversation with Mr. Garrison over COVID-19 and the impact it has had on our Jesuit community. While we talked, I asked him a series of guiding questions or prompts to steer our conversation. The questions progress from the thoughts about last year, especially around late March, to now, present day. I will be mainly underscoring his responses to those questions and paraphrasing our dialogue.

Guiding Questions:

What is your perspective on last semester? What are you/administration most proud of?

“I’m very proud of the school. Over the summer the general tone around education was pretty negative. A lot of people didn’t think it was going to work. Sadly, I know a couple of schools and Jesuit schools who have not re-opened since last March – they are all online, not in person. Moreover, I was in meetings all the time with principals and other Jesuit Schools from all over the country comparing notes.

I am very grateful for everyone, because, you know, it didn’t have to work. At the end of the day, regardless of any work administration and faculty did, if the student body did not cooperate, then this wouldn’t have worked so well. 

Now, in regards to the hybrid learning schedule, the overall cleanliness of the school with the spraying of desks to the routinely cleaning of tables has worked. I understand it’s not fun to stay home sometimes, but if someone you know has or might have it, please stay home.

All in all, everything is a gift and the overall compliance has been great – we haven’t had to shut down yet. My goal is to hopefully stay open all year, and I am very thankful for all the teachers who have been able to adapt and overcome the virtual learning environment. It is crazy to think about a year ago we didn’t know how to even use Microsoft Teams.”

Is there anything that worries or concerns you about this semester regarding COVID or anything related?

“The new strains of the disease – I am not sure how much to be concerned about that. Are people taking it seriously enough? Is it going to spread? Could we let our guard down too soon? There is a vaccine but not many people have it yet. There is a lot that is still in the air and there’s no certainty. Ultimately, I worry that if we let our guard down too soon we might fall backwards – but I sure hope that is not the case.”

What are the expectations and goals regarding this semester? Have any plans changed or been made for big senior events such as prom and graduation etc.?

“Let’s be real blunt here, Prom and Graduation are very different events”

Graduation: there is this protocol that we can follow to make it work. We can control things – let’s just say I’m not scared of graduation. However, prom is a different animal because people won’t stay six feet apart.

On the other hand, there’s a specific senior event called the Senior Mass and Brunch in May. I think that can definitely work and we can potentially figure something about how to do that.

Now again, as for prom, let’s talk carefully if anything for Prom were to happen it would definitely look different, so if anything happens it might only be seniors – nothing is set in stone – we’ll have to evaluate and see. The current juniors will hopefully get another crack at it next year.

I hope it helps the senior class know that we are actively talking about you guys and trying to figure out things for you. How do we make things that are very different this year still symbolic and worthwhile.”

Is there any advice that you have for students going into the next year 21-22?

“I’d like to break it up into two groups.

So first I’d like to address the current seniors and then I’ll talk for the rest of the underclassmen. For the seniors, I’d like to think that there will be colleges that go back to normal pretty quickly and there will be some that don’t. My advice is don’t lose heart, because we will come out of this. So, if you find yourself in a situation where it looks bleak or frustrating, sit tight for a few more months, it’s going to get better. 

Now for underclassmen and well the seniors too, I’d call you to inventory what you have lost – what are some things I have quit doing – and what are some things you have started doing and need to keep doing. A personal example is that my family has been eating dinner together more than we ever have. Now, we make dinner together, we sit down, and we all eat – this just feels more significant and wholesome.

Do you have any questions for the student body?

“I would love to see how everything plays out as we get towards the end of the school year. I’d like to hear more from the guys about how the new bell schedule has worked for them. It’s a shame that this new schedule happened at the same time as the pandemic, but imagine having to do the old schedule online. This new schedule resembles a lot more what you’ll see in college. 

I’d say a final question: Is there something that this adversity has positively brought about at Jesuit – this would be similar to my story of now regularly eating dinner with my family because of the effects of COVID-19. I’d love to hear back from the guys.

In Conclusion

I was able to have a fun laid back conversation with Mr. Garrison, and towards the end of our conversation we even talked about how wild it is to think about a world without the thought of masks or social distancing for example.

In the end, from our conversation, I managed to get some great insight especially for the Senior Class of 2021. I hope Jesuit and the world, as a whole, continues moving forward and in the right direction to overcome these uncertainties and challenges.

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