Sign up for Chalkbeat Chicago’s free daily newsletter to keep up with the latest education news.

The Class of 2024 had a normal senior year with in-person classes, prom, and graduation.

But this year’s seniors started high school in fall of 2020 anything but normally. Classes were virtual, they had lunch at home, and they didn’t get a chance to make friends when COVID-19 kept school buildings closed.

Chalkbeat spoke to 10 graduating seniors about what it was like to start high school during the pandemic. The Class of 2024 didn’t have the usual hallmarks of freshman year like getting lost on the first day of school while trying to find classes, meeting new teachers for the first time, or the awkwardness of making new friends, all while going through the awfulness of puberty.

Even though these graduating seniors had a rocky start, they were resilient. Many students took Advanced Placement classes, dual-credit courses, and participated in many extracurricular activities.

Chicago Public Schools announced in a press release that this year’s graduating class received over 84,000 acceptance letters from institutions like Northwestern, Howard, and Harvard universities. Over 140 students have already earned associate degrees, more than 2,200 students are graduating from International Baccalaureate programs, and students took more than 49,000 Advanced Placement exams as of May 21, according to the press release.

But the Class of 2024 is also graduating during a contentious time in history. In November, the Chicago Board of Education will transition from an all-appointed board to a hybrid school board with some elected members and some appointed. In the United States, the country will once again vote for president, choosing between incumbent Joseph Biden, a Democrat, and the presumptive Republican candidate, former President Donald Trump, who has been convicted on 34 felony counts of falsifying financial documents. Across the country, college students are protesting the Israel-Hamas War, which has seen over 35,000 Palestinians killed after Hamas killed over 1,000 Israeli citizens during the October 7 attack.

In their own words, Chicago’s high school seniors talk about their time in high school, post-secondary education plans, and how they feel about graduating during a presidential election and conflicts happening around the globe.

These interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Who supported you most throughout your high school career?

Four people stand in nice clothing posing for a portrait outside of a school.
Chase Jones, Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, on graduation day. (Image courtesy of Chase Jones)

Chase Jones, Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, plans to attend Yale University to study biology.

“My mother and my eighth grade history teacher, Miss Clark. Brooks is an academic center, so I’ve been there since seventh grade. I’ve had Miss Clark as my history teacher for eighth grade, ninth grade and 11th grade. She single-handedly has been my support for helping me maintain balance academically. My mother has always been there to support me mentally, socially, and emotionally.”

Xamiya Walton, Butler College Prep, a Noble school, will attend Northwestern University on a basketball scholarship to major in journalism with a minor in statistics toward a career as a sports journalist.

“I would definitely say my parents and my sisters. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all the things I did and be where I am now.”

A high school senior with dark hair and wearing a blue and yellow cap and gown speaks during a graduation ceremony behind a podium that reads "Butler" while an adult wearing an orange gown stands to the right.
Xamiya Walton, Butler College Prep, speaks during her high school graduation ceremony. (Image courtesy of Xamiya Walton)

You started high school in 2020 during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. What was it like to start this chapter of your life in a virtual setting?

Two adults and one high school senior pose for a portrait with lots of decorations.
Fernando Gonzalez, Marine Leadership Academy, poses for a portrait on graduation day. (Image courtesy of Fernando Gonzalez)

Fernando Gonzalez, Marine Leadership Academy, will attend Stanford University and plans to major in computer science and cybersecurity.

“It was hard to meet new people through a computer and I struggled in class. I wasn’t challenging myself in class. I asked to be switched to AP classes during my freshman year. At first, the administration was hesitant about it because I didn’t take any pre-courses to get into AP courses, but they made an exception. I worked so hard with these AP courses, but I still struggled because working through the computer made me feel like I wasn’t in the class. I feel like I was in my room the whole time. When we went to lunch, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna shut my computer off and lay down.’”

Raymarreon Polk, Crane Medical Prep High School, will attend DePauw University in the fall and plans to major in computer science.

“For me, starting high school during COVID was a little weird. You can’t really see many people’s faces because they rarely turned their cameras on, so the teacher saw a bunch of pictures. Also, nobody was really collaborative, because it was so awkward.”

What is the best memory you have from the past four years?

Melina Sandoval, Carl Schurz High School, will attend North Park University where she will pursue elementary education.

An adult man wearing a dark suit poses for a portrait with a high school senior wearing a pink shirt.
Melina Sandoval (on the right), Carl Schurz High School, poses with Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson. (Image courtesy of Melina Sandoval)

“I had a lot of great opportunities. One of them was meeting the mayor. Another one was when my art teacher, some friends, and I were in class having fun and eating. That was a great memory and I wish I could go back to it. Also, I went to prom. I won duchess but I didn’t win queen. It was a good experience still.”

Andrew Espinoza, North-Grand High School, will attend Harold Washington College in the fall.

“When we came back to school after virtual learning during COVID and seeing friends. It was a great moment because I saw all the people who were on the computer in person.”

A high school senior with long dark hair and wearing a cap and gown poses for a portrait outside.
Guadalupe Miranda, Advantage Academy of DeVry University, takes a picture on graduation day. (Image courtesy of Guadalupe Miranda)

You all are graduating during an election year and amid protests over the Israel-Hamas War. What are your hopes for the future?

Guadalupe Miranda, Advantage Academy of DeVry University, will attend Stanford University in the fall to study human biology on a pre-med track.

“With the upcoming election, it’s really nerve-wracking because it’s the first time for those of us who are 18. It was my first time voting in the primaries. When it comes to things happening in other countries, it’s really sad and devastating. But seeing how young people are getting involved and using their voice to try to make an impact gives me hope. I hope that young people can continue to use their voices.”

A high school senior with dark hair and wearing a red sweater and holding a university pendant poses for a portrait.
Nyla Jackson, Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, holds a flag representing Illinois State University where she'll be studying marketing analytics. (Image courtesy of Nyla Jackson)

Nyla Jackson, Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, will attend Illinois State University and plans to major in marketing analytics.

“I hope that the Class of 2024 continues to break barriers and push through in the face of adversity.”

Looking back, what would you want to change or improve about Chicago Public Schools?

Jayveon Edmonds, Al Raby High School for Community and Environment, will head to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale this fall to study zoology.

“I didn’t feel like my school set me up for greatness. I feel like our creativity was taken away because we didn’t have many options and we were underpopulated. My graduating class was only about 20. My school didn’t have funding to bring in new teachers or different sports programs. My high school experience was mediocre because of the lack of opportunity. Luckily, I was able to take college classes because I was able to network. But when I talked to other high school students, I realized that we didn’t have a lot of options for classes. CPS should have more ways for students to be creative and check on the students in underpopulated schools.”

A high school senior with short dark hair and wearing a dark suit poses for a portrait in front of a nice car outside.
Jayveon Edmonds, Al Raby High School for Community and Environment. (Image courtesy of Jayveon Edmonds)

Duchara Moody, Morgan Park High School, will attend the University Of Illinois Urbana - Champaign in the fall and major in secondary education.

“What I would like to change or improve about Chicago Public Schools is the teachers. I feel we need more motivating, encouraging, and respectful teachers. I have had different experiences with teachers and noticed that some teachers aren’t doing their job, especially once I got in high school. I noticed some teachers just don’t care and are only there for the pay. This is why I plan to make a difference and become a teacher. Teaching will be such a joyful moment for me and I’ll be the best teacher ever. My goal is to instill as much wisdom as I can into kids, be a safe space for them if they need someone to talk to, be the one to cheer them up and let them know that they are the future and that they can be bright.”

A high school senior with dark hair and wearing a white graduating cap and gown holds a diploma while posing in front of a red and orange banner that has white words that reads "Hope Chicago".
Duchara Moody, Morgan Park High School. (Image courtesy of Duchara Moody)

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at