Young America 18 to 29 Now Speaks UP

In 2020, 13 young adults from around the country came together to document their lives during a historic moment. These are our stories.


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Radio Rookies

Expecting the Unexpected: Graduating High School During a Pandemic


Madison Hall

Baltimore, MD


When a global pandemic canceled end-of-the-year milestones for the class of 2020, Madison Hall learned an important lesson about expectations.

Madison Hall poses for a photo with five friends. The group planned a small party after their senior prom was canceled.
Photo: Courtesy of Madison Hall

Madison: When schools first closed in March, they told us we’d be back in a couple of weeks. And when things got worse, we figured we’d be spending the rest of the year at home. But we kept hearing we might be able to go back. It was annoying — how the dates kept changing. In April, the state said schools would stay closed until the middle of May.

[Television news reporter: With several developments today from Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. First in Maryland, the school closures in the state have been extended through May 15.]

Madison: I immediately told my brother Christian.

Christian: I feel like they’re gonna set the date and then they’re going to postpone it over and over again.

Madison: Yeah, no, they’re definitely going to do that.

Christian: Yeah. We’re not actually going back.

Madison: That’s how I feel.

Madison: Because you know what this means. Christian?

Christian: Yeah?

Madison: This means that I might have prom!

Christian: You might have prom?

Madison: We might have prom.

Christian: Oh, you’re a senior now!

Madison: Yeah, prom is May 23. So guys, I’m still going to have prom. Time to go get that prom dress! Glad they gave us that stimulus check!

Madison: I know I sound excited but even then, I didn’t really believe we’d have prom. And I never did get that prom dress — I just wanted something to feel hopeful about. My friends Shayla and Rayelle did too.

Madison: Did they officially postpone it?

Shayla: Mhm.

Madison: Wow.

Rayelle: Yeah, they sent out an email. The same email that they cancelled senior thingies and graduation.

Madison: Wow.

Shayla: I’m not too upset.

Madison: Really? Your dress, like, just came in the mail.

Shayla: I’m not too upset because at least it’s not cancelled. It’s just postponed.

Madison: I don’t know if you guys felt that but like yesterday, I don’t know why I was just in this state of, like — literally if we don’t have prom, it’s whatever. Like, I just couldn’t care less. I was so mad because, like, what have we actually had that was normal? What?

Madison: I think we all knew it wasn’t gonna happen. I was trying to convince myself I didn’t care. But my friends really wanted to do something.

Madison: You had a whole plan?

Rayelle: Yeah, if I heard that the prom was cancelled: The day I’m supposed to go to prom I’m wearing my dress, regardless where I am.

[Madison laughs.]

Rayelle: Do the whole dress up. Hair, makeup, nails, everything. And I’m wearing the dress. I don’t care if I’m going grocery shopping.

Shayla: Go off.

Madison: So on the day our prom was scheduled for, my friends and I threw our own.

[Madison greets friends.]

Madison: Hi

Friend: Oh my god, you look so pretty!

Madison: Thank you!

Friend: Go off, sis!

Madison: When I got to Shayla’s house I was really excited to see everyone. We hadn’t hung out in more than two months.

[Madison and friends talk in background.]

Friend: Oh really? That’s so cute.

Second friend: You tie-dyed it?

Madison: I wore an old dress — that I had dyed sunset colors that morning — and we stood on Shayla’s driveway posing for pictures. Cars honked as they drove past.

[Cars honk.]

Madison: I never thought this was how my senior year would look.

[Music plays: High Hopes by Panic! At The Disco]

Me and my five friends dancing in someone’s basement on prom night. Or having my graduation in my living room in front of a computer screen.

[Music plays: Pomp and Circumstance]

[Sound of virtual graduation: Other students’ names are called. “Madison Hall” is called and her family cheers.]

My high school was kind of chaotic, even before COVID. So I’ve gotten used to things changing a lot. Like I’m supposed to be starting college at NYU in the fall but I’m not making any plans yet. I’ve learned that no matter how much you expect the unexpected — things can always get even more unexpected.

Also featured on WNYC and WYPR.

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