Chase Magnano

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This was a crazy year for high school seniors across the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, milestones of senior year like prom and graduation were put on hold or not held at all. One of the seniors who had to adjust to the new normal in the wake of the crisis was Ponte Vedra High School salutatorian and class president Chase Magnano, who shared his thoughts on navigating through his senior year during this unique time in history and his plans and hopes for the future.

As told to Paris Moulden

Can you tell us about your virtual graduation at PVHS (on May 20)? What did it include?

They did a really good job on it. It was basically was a YouTube livestream and we got the link for the website so you could send it to your family. It started off with an address from the principal, like usual, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem and then an address from the superintendent and Ms. Barrera (SJC School Board member District 4). Then we did the salutatorian speech, valedictorian speech, the class and then the class president did the turning of the tassel.

How did they work out the logistics of that with all the students?

It was actually pretty incredible that they got it all done so fast. Every student was required to take a senior picture at the beginning of the year, so they contacted the company that did them, and then they got everyone’s picture in their cap and gowns. A narrator read the name and if they were cum laude, summa cum laude or magna cum laude, and that’s kind of how the names all went. With the speeches, they brought us in a month before and they had a limit on the number of people who could be in the room, and everything was all spaced out. Basically, they just recorded your speech. The nice thing was that if you messed up, you could redo it, which I actually did. The salutatorian speech went fine, because that’s the one I was really focusing on because the class president is smaller, it’s is just turning the tassel. But I forgot I’m not great at my rights and lefts, so I would say please turn from the left to the right, but I’d go from my right to the left, so they were able to cut that part. I suppose it was better I did it there and got to redo it rather than on the day of. It was definitely different. They did a really good job on it, but you look forward to graduation, so it was a two-sided coin.

Seniors are dealing with something so unique this year. What has the impact been of having your senior year interrupted in this way?

For me it was a little tough, because first semester I was applying to college, and took a morning class and just had a lot of stuff going on. I had a really good time first semester and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it wasn’t exactly a lot of hanging-out-with-friends time. That’s what third quarter was, all the stuff you look forward to senior year, and that’s what fourth quarter was going to be, plus prom, graduation, all kinds of stuff. I had an event planned but that was one of the first things canceled because it was right after spring break. So, it was hard because you look forward to it for a while. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to dealing with a hurricane, because you have to board up and you’re basically with your family and more or less stuck inside. But the thing is, the hurricane is over in a weekend or a few days, and suddenly weeks passed and then a month passed, so it was kind of hard sometimes. 

Do you think you learned anything from this situation? Did it impact the way you think about things?

First, it was something really out of my control. There’s really nothing you can do. Just seeing something that is completely out of your control, and to an extent, you have to accept it. You have to look at what’s going to happen and just be OK with the outcome. … Also, focusing on making sure I was intrinsically happy. I thought I had gotten there and then I realized that even though I wasn’t directly looking for other people’s approval, the fact you couldn’t see anyone made me realize you’re kind of lonely. So just being happy on your own and being happy to be where you are and happy with the things you could control. That was the thing I tried to take away from it.

You co-founded a nonprofit called JaxTHRIVE. Can you tell us what it is and what it does?

We work with recently re-settled refugee students and try to catch them up with math, reading, English skills and general socialization. We go every Saturday, and we do a few hours of tutoring and provide a lunch for everyone. Last year, we started implementing (a program) where you could do one of four activities. You can do sports, or we have professional dance teachers come in, or I would lead a STEM activity, so we’d do different science experiments and stuff like that, and that was really fun to do this year.

How has JaxTHRIVE been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis?

A lot of our volunteers come every week, and they really form personal relationships with the kids there, and it’s a lot like how it would be when you’re with your friends. You’re not six feet apart all the time and you’re not conscious about who’s washing their hands. A lot of it is like hanging out. It was spring break when we started (this cycle), so we had a week off for spring break, and then with our every other week cycle it would have been a two week break anyway, and so we kind of took a break off. And we really haven’t been able to do the same thing right now. We’ve tried video chatting to help with online school stuff, but it’s just a little bit difficult to not have the face-to-face infrastructure. We were set to end (the cycle) in late April anyway, so thankfully we didn’t lose that much time, but it definitely wasn’t how we wanted it to go.

What are your plans now that high school is over?

Most of the summer stuff got canceled. Right now, we’re trying to see if we can work with the City of Jacksonville to get an in-person graduation ceremony held. It would more of a commencement, just hearing your name and tossing the caps and stuff we missed with the virtual graduation. Obviously, we’d maintain CDC guidelines; keep the safety there but also be able to get that emotional element that wasn’t quite there when we did it online. I’m also thinking about starting up an SAT test prep company for the summer, because it’s a useful thing to learn and something I can enjoy.

What are your college plans?

I’m going to Princeton. I’m super, super excited. I stayed on the edge of my seat deciding for a while, and, at the end of the day, it just felt right to me.

Are you concerned about what college will look like in the fall?

The president released a letter saying they would decide in early July if it would be online or in person. That’s the other thing this has kind of taught me, is just to take it day by day. I’m hoping for the best, but at the end of the day, they’re going to do what’s right for the students, the faculty and everyone involved. Hopefully, we’ll be on campus because so much of it is collaborative and that’s how you’re going to get through the hard times, is that you’re doing it with your friends and you’re all working together. I don’t know how I can imagine doing that from my bedroom. I’d make any sacrifice to get on campus next year, just to be there and make it as normal as possible is the goal. I’m keeping positive thoughts.

What will you miss most about home while you’re at college?

Probably a 75-degree December day. That’s going to be huge. I’m excited for the cold, but also, there are some 40-degree days here and I’m like “Why would anyone ever go outside right now?” And of course, my friends and my family, too. It’s going to be kind of tough moving on, but at the same time, there are a lot of people I know I’ll be friends with for years. Oh, and the beach. Or rather, a beach that’s warm, that you want to go into the ocean. Because the Jersey Shore in January isn’t the same as the Ponte Vedra Inn.

What advice would you give to younger students and/or those about to enter high school about navigating the high school experience?

There are a few things. Don’t let your grades slip ever. I think there’s a lot you can do. Obviously, you can’t always get the “A,” sometimes it’s not in the cards but I was always proud of myself because I knew if I got a bad grade, I knew I would be OK, because I did everything I could. Not having to look back and think I could have worked harder or that maybe if I studied a little harder the last four years that I’d be somewhere different. Regardless of what happened I knew I worked the hardest I could, and I still preserved my high school experience. My second point, which is more easily applicable, is go all in for everything. Dress up every day for Spirit Week. Go to all the dances. Go to all the games, not just football games. It was almost more fun going to my friends’ soccer games. It’s just fun to really get into the school spirit, especially at Ponte Vedra, because there’s so much to be proud of there. Don’t have any regrets.

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