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

Wisdom Egwom, 17

School: Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School
Neighbourhood: Rexdale
What’s next: A fifth year of high school, or computer science at Ryerson

I’ve been interested in computers since I was a kid. I remember being fascinated by computer hacking scenes in movies like The Matrix Reloaded. I loved the idea of bringing something to life with your fingers on a keyboard.

The Class of 2021

By Grade 10, I was focused on computer science classes in high school. I knew that was what I wanted to study in university. I was in a few extracurriculars, too. I played on the football and soccer teams. I also volunteer as a leader in a boys’ youth group called Men of Distinction, which is part of a broader youth organization in Rexdale called Trust 15. We meet once a week to talk about everything from personal finance to relationships to police brutality—whatever’s on the kids’ minds. We also bring in community members who are experts in their fields to talk to about careers. The group has about 30 kids, from Grades 9 to 12, and five leaders.

I was in Grade 11 when the pandemic hit. The school was confused about what to do, and the teaching was very hands-off from that point on. They would give us videos to watch and send us assignments. We didn’t have any direct teacher interaction, and we didn’t learn enough of what we needed to learn. I really started to notice that education gap in Grade 12.

I opted for hybrid learning, so I’d have classes in school one week, then online the next. I had physics during the first quadmester, and the teacher didn’t know that we’d all fallen behind in Grade 11. We tried to explain it to him but he needed to keep up with the curriculum, so he just kept going. It was so hard to understand the concepts. Everyone was struggling. The quadmester went by so quickly. We only had four tests, and most of us flunked the first two, which brought down our marks. Usually, you’d have six or seven tests to average out your final grade. The virtual students had a serious advantage: when you’re taking a test at home, it’s basically like open book. I heard stories about how easy it was for them to cheat. But I had to do all my tests in person.

I was worried my marks were too low in the first quadmester to apply to university, so I waited until January to apply so I could bring up my average. My average went from the low 70s in October to the mid-80s in January to the low 90s in May. I did well in English and in a computer science class I was doing in night school. I applied to Ryerson, U of T and Guelph for computer science. Ryerson was my first choice. But in May, I found out I was wait-listed. Then I got a rejection from Guelph and an alternate offer from U of T to study social sciences. It was disappointing. But I have a good group of friends, and we keep in touch on Discord. They helped calm me down. They researched on Reddit and found out that a lot of people were wait-listed for computer science at Ryerson—it’s super competitive. They’re motivating me to keep going and keep learning, so I’m grateful for that.

Even though there’s still a chance I could get into Ryerson in the fall, I’m thinking realistically about what will happen if I don’t. I figure I’ll do another semester of high school and take classes like biology and chemistry, then try applying again for early consideration. I might apply for programs like math or statistics, then transfer to computer science later.

Despite the stress of school and university applications, I’ve found ways to have fun. My friends and I are really into anime, so we took a course on Udemy to learn how to use a game development program called Unreal Engine and make our own anime game. It’s still a work in progress, but our working title for it is Equinox: Power Bestowed. I’m a pretty artistic person, and sometimes I’ll have a sudden burst of ideas for the game in the middle of the night. I’ll have to get up to write them down in my notebook.

I also kept up with my youth group, which went online during the pandemic. I’ve helped facilitate conversations between the youth, MC’d the session, and introduced the guest speakers. Some of the kids are really struggling, so I try to crack jokes and make people smile. My goal is always for people to leave the meeting feeling better than when they came.

—As told to Andrea Yu