The Class of 2021

Grade 12 was not what they imagined: no prom, no varsity teams, no senior trip. But these teens survived the quadmester system and made their way through online school. Here’s how they coped—the good and the bad—and what they’re doing next

Abu-ubaida Ali, 17

School: Scarborough Academy of Technological, Environmental and Computer Education at W. A. Porter Collegiate
Neighbourhood: East Scarborough
What’s next: Computer engineering at Ryerson

I’m the youngest of six siblings, and I’ve always been my family’s go-to tech guy. My parents are on the older side and not great with technology. We have relatives in Africa, so I taught them how to use platforms like WhatsApp and Zoom to stay connected with friends and family living abroad. Every Sunday, there’s a family reunion on Zoom and everybody gets dressed up. I always set up the space for my parents, moving furniture around so they have a nice backdrop for the call. Meanwhile, I chose my high school, SATEC, because it offers a bunch of computer science and networking courses. Even before high school, I knew that was what I wanted to study. So when Cyber Seniors, an organization that helps seniors learn technology, reached out to my school looking for volunteers, I knew it was right up my alley.

The Class of 2021

There were about 40 other high school volunteers from all over Toronto in my orientation group. The Cyber Seniors volunteer program is run over Zoom. We started off with the basics, like learning how to set up webinars so we could lead tech sessions for the seniors. We then made our own webinar presentations on specific topics. I created a slideshow about word processing programs like Microsoft Word, Google Docs and other programs that allow you to edit text. I had the opportunity to present to a group of about 65 seniors, which was really great. I’m not the best public speaker, but the seniors were all extremely kind. During my first presentation, I said, “This is my first one, so don’t expect anything too good.” But at the end they all told me I did a great job and that I had a great smile. It felt really good to help people.

You need patience to teach seniors about technology. In a world where everything is lightning fast, seniors take their time. It might take them a few minutes to get through a question, but you just have to listen and try to understand where they’re coming from. Even something that we’d consider very basic, like a drop-down menu, might be difficult for them to understand at first. You have to explain things very clearly.

It’s nice to be part of a community during the pandemic. It’s not like doing a school assignment that gets graded and disappears into the cloud. With Cyber Seniors, I feel like I’m actually benefiting someone. You’ll see the seniors on the screen with pens and paper, taking notes on your presentation. They all have their cameras on before the webinars start, and they recognize each other and say hi, even though they’ve never met in person. It’s really rewarding to be a part of that, especially when this year has been so isolating for them.

I’m planning to study computer engineering at Ryerson next year. I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my degree yet. I could open up my own computer shop where I build computers for people. Or I could be an app developer. Maybe I’ll even work somewhere like Cyber Seniors. The main thing is that I want to use technology to help people.

It’s unfortunate that my Grade 11 and 12 years have been limited by Covid. We had the option to do a hybrid of in-person and online learning, but since the in-person portion was only about an hour each day, and I live an hour-and-a-half’s bus ride from school, it didn’t make sense for me to attend.

I’m not going to lie, I miss my friends. We stay in touch by playing games together on Discord and messaging in Instagram group chats—we even saw each other in person a few times when the lockdown was lifted—but I haven’t seen some of them in over a year.

The good thing is that my siblings and I are like our own friend group. I realize that other families don’t have that. I’m closest with my older brother, and we play games or go longboarding all the time. When things are open, the six of us will all go mini-golfing.

I chose Ryerson because I want to stay close to my family. My mom suffers from a disorder called paraneoplastic syndrome, which affects her muscle movement and memory, so I want to be around to see her more. I’m definitely excited for things to go back to normal and for university to start in the fall. All my siblings have been through it already. They’re telling me that I need to shape up and get ready. This summer, I’d like to get a job, hopefully buy a car and save some money for tuition so my parents don’t have to pay as much. I’d also like to keep volunteering with Cyber Seniors. I’m just trying to get it together and not be such a kid anymore. I think that’s going to be the summer goal.

—As told to Haley Steinberg