Class of 2022: Graduates move past pandemic with life lessons

Milan Capoor, Meron Ayecheh and Rahul Gudapati are 2022 valedictorians.

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Milan Capoor, Meron Ayecheh and Rahul Gudapati are 2022 valedictorians.

This year’s graduating class hadn’t even reached the halfway point of their high school years when the coronavirus emerged and upended almost every aspect of school all at once.

Their classrooms became computer screens. Everything from pep rallies and school dances to football games and theater performances were canceled, modified or pivoted to virtual activities.

Simply hanging out with friends was tricky, with masks and social distancing at play.

ExploreMetro Atlanta valedictorians share pandemic memories, words of wisdom

And yet, that’s only part of their story for roughly 100,000 seniors statewide set to graduate during the coming days. There were Zoom dance parties with teachers and drive-by birthday surprises — and other poignant moments.

During their senior year, many classrooms switched to virtual learning after a surge of coronavirus cases in August. By October, most classrooms had reopened, but the omicron surge in January upended school life again.

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Meron Ayecheh, Clarkston High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Meron Ayecheh, Clarkston High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Meron Ayecheh, Clarkston High School valedictorian. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

By February, things were finally getting back to some normality — as much as they can during a pandemic.

“The pandemic took away from my high school experience,” said Meron Ayecheh, Clarkston High School valedictorian. “However, it also taught me an important life lesson. Independence. It taught me to completely rely on myself and not on others! I’d say this beats anything else.”

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Rahul Gudapati, valedictorian at Alpharetta High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Rahul Gudapati, valedictorian at Alpharetta High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Rahul Gudapati, valedictorian at Alpharetta High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

There were also some lighter moments.

Rahul Gudapati, the valedictorian at Alpharetta High School, said one story he’ll tell his grandchildren will be “waking up and getting in the shower at 8:25 a.m. when class started at 8:20 a.m. — and still be counted present.”

Milan Capoor, North Atlanta High School valedictorian, has reflected on many silver linings in the pandemic. She learned to cook and sew, and found new ways to connect with friends, such as playing Minecraft together online.

“Coming back to school at last in senior year, it was clear that as a class we had all changed. We had all grown together. We were friendlier, more supportive, and more collaborative with each other,” she said.

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Milan Capoor, valedictorian at North Atlanta High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Contributed

Milan Capoor, valedictorian at North Atlanta High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Contributed

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Milan Capoor, valedictorian at North Atlanta High School. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

All across Georgia, seniors will toss their graduation caps toward an open sky. They will get the opportunity to revel in this ritual, which recent graduating classes missed.

“Looking back on the pandemic, I see it as the scary, uncertain, unstable, and dangerous time that it was,” said Capoor. “But I also see it as a crucible of community, of friendship, and of personal growth. In the long term, I hope that this will be part of the message we carry forward; not just that we survived, but that we made it through together.”

Go to Sunday Living and the AJC education page for more graduation stories.


Georgia graduation rates

2022: Not yet available

2021: 83.7%

2020: 83.8%

2019: 82.0%

2018: 81.6%

Source: Georgia Department of Education