FAIRFIELD – Now that online classes have finished, Fairfield High School seniors have a chance to reflect on their academic careers and the lessons they’ve learned over 12-plus years of classroom instruction.
The end of that journey has left a bitter taste in their mouths, with the unexpected closure of schools on March 16, never to be reopened. Nevertheless, the senior class has tried not to let that obscure what for most was a fantastic tenure in the school district.
Leone Gichure-Marira was looking forward to being the senior captain of the soccer team. The Sunday before the season was supposed to start, he learned the whole season had been canceled.
“That hit really hard,” Gichure-Marira said. “I was looking forward to a good year, a good chance to make state soccer, which would be going on right now.”
Gichure-Marira and other FHS classmates The Union spoke to said the weird and unfortunate fact about the quarantine is that they can’t remember their last day of school. They thought it was any ordinary Friday in March, not the final time they’d see classmates in person.
“We were flabbergasted,” Gichure-Marira said. “It stinks we didn’t get a traditional senior year, but I’ve noticed that us seniors have come together as one, staying strong through the tough times. It’s cool to see that happen.”
Gichure-Marira said he’s tried to limit the number of people he interacts with to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“I hang out with a few friends, not too many. We keep a close circle to stay somewhat protected from the virus,” he said. “I haven’t seen a lot of my classmates in two months.”
Gichure-Marira said he’s going to miss his extra-curricular activities and particularly his teachers. He said choir director Zach Reiter and band director Jim Edgeton were “the best directors you could have.”
“Band was really fun for me because it allowed me to meet a lot of new friends,” Gichure-Marira said. “I enjoyed playing my trumpet a lot.”
Gichure-Marira participated in football all four years, was in Future Business Leaders of America, and went out for the speech team his final two years.
“I wanted to find something new my junior year, so I tried speech team,” he said. “I was in short film that year, and we ended up making it to state speech. That was awesome.”
Gichure-Marira also has fond memories of participating in John Grunwald’s e-sports team, which participated in a video game competition at WACO High School where Gichure-Marira won a chair and other prizes.
Gichure-Marira said his favorite teacher during his time in Fairfield was study hall monitor Lori Kayser.
“She made study hall interesting,” he said. “She was always fun to be around. She would socialize with the students if she wasn’t cleaning.”
Gichure-Marira plans to attend Iowa State University to study psychology.
Megan Higgins was looking forward to her final year on the golf team, but just like Gichure-Marira’s soccer season, the coronavirus ended that, too.
“There’s no golf season, no prom, and now graduation is not looking good,” Higgins said. “This is definitely not what I wanted my senior year to be, but we’ve got to keep our family and neighbors safe. I’m glad we took early action to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus to flatten the curve instead of having a few more weeks in school.”
Higgins was among the most decorated singers to come through Fairfield High School. She is in a select group of students to make all-state choir all four years. In fact, making the choir as a freshman is her favorite memory from high school. Higgins performed in a quartet that year, and bonded with quartet member Anuja Pharasi, then a senior.
“Anuja was instrumental in my development as a singer,” Higgins said. “When I was a freshman in Vox, we did this thing called Quartet Roulette, where the choir director could see who we sounded best with. After the two of us sang in that, we knew we wanted to sing together. She was very encouraging. We helped to keep each other steady and stable as we dealt with the pressure of auditioning.”
Higgins said that after making it to all-state choir her first three years of high school, she felt this immense pressure to make it a fourth time her senior year.
“Once you make it, people expect you to make it again,” she said. “To be able to live up to that expectation was a huge relief.”
Earlier this year, Higgins began having trouble with her voice. The problem became so severe that she had to stop singing altogether.
“I had to go to a few doctors, and luckily it’s nothing too serious. I’m hoping by the time I’m done with therapy, my voice will be back to where it was,” she said.
Higgins plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania this fall, where she will study “something in the social sciences,” such as political science, history or international relations.
“I can’t believe we’ve waited all these years for things we’ve been promised, and we just didn’t get them.”
That was how senior Harper Fiske felt about being robbed of so many memories from the school year being cut short. Fiske was looking forward to performing in the spring musical “Freaky Friday” about a mother and daughter who switch bodies. But that, just like her last concert and last prom, was canceled. Fiske said she’s often vented her frustrations with classmates who feel the same way and that, ironically, these shared feelings have made her feel closer to some friends than ever before.
Fiske plans to attend the University of Iowa this fall to study musical theater, her chief passion as a student at FHS. Those who have seen Fiske perform will be surprised to learn that the thespian once suffered from stage fright.
“I would get really nervous and tense, which would prevent me from performing well,” she said. “I had to get over that before I could get any better.”
Fiske credits drama coach Betsy Wotherspoon for helping her mature as a performer. The two of them would do exercises where they’d think of characters in various scenarios and how they would react.
“She helped me better understand the characters I was playing, and therefore be better at telling their stories,” Fiske said. “You have to think about what they’re saying in every scene, but also what they’re not saying.”
Fiske said her favorite teachers from FHS include Fred Hucke, Sydney Maxwell and Kevin Hosbond.
“Those teachers helped me get better at something I was already passionate about, like English and reading,” Fiske said. “They were able to achieve that atmosphere where I couldn’t wait to go to their class and learn.”
One of her high school memories that will always stick with her is her bittersweet experience with the all-state choir. Fiske made it her junior year, despite being so nervous on the day of the audition that she broke down and cried. For her senior year, Fiske was no less nervous. She poured her heart and soul into her audition. She worked so hard that she was once again overcome with tears. But this time, she didn’t make it. Fiske was crushed, but her friends were there for her when she needed them most.
“They were so kind to me, and I could tell they weren’t just trying to make me feel better,” Fiske said. “They told me not to base my opinion of myself on a judge who heard me for five minutes. Those comments have really stuck with me.”
The transition to online courses that came after the March 16 quarantine allowed students to continue their education while still seeing their teachers and classmates, albeit on a screen. Senior Drake Rippey said the move to online learning was not easy. Most of his classes this semester were electives that he didn’t have to continue, but the one class he did continue receiving instruction on was an advanced placement calculus course taught by Michelle Higgins.
Rippey said he’s always loved math, and Mrs. Higgins is one of the best teachers he’s ever had. Even then, finishing the last two months of the course online proved to be a challenge.
“If there’s any class you do not want to take online, it would be a math class,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest subjects to learn when you can’t ask questions of the teacher face-to-face.”
The final two months notwithstanding, Rippey has a lot of happy memories from his time at FHS, like becoming a drum major in the band his senior year, and making the varsity golf team as a freshman.
“I was either going to try out for color guard or drum major. One of my best friends was one of the other three drum majors, and said how much fun it would be if I made it,” Rippey said. “It sounds like a fun job. You have control of 100-some people in front of you.”
Rippey said his start on the varsity golf team was sort of a baptism by fire. He was on the junior varsity team most of his freshman year until near the end of the season. Four varsity golfers were unable to participate in the conference meet, which determines the conference champion, so Rippey was promoted to varsity for the event. Rippey remained on the varsity squad his sophomore and junior years, too, and was excited for his senior campaign, which never came.
The sport Rippey enjoys most is bowling. He went out for it just because he needed a wintertime activity, and didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as he did.
“Being on the bowling team was definitely one of my favorite things about high school,” he said. “I really liked it my freshman year. I got along with everyone, including the upperclassmen. The coaches, Brian Marley and Lisa Greenig, are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
Rippey credits his coaches with helping him hone his technique. He knew nothing about bowling his freshman year, and had only gone bowling a few times in his life. With dedicated practice, he was able to raise his average from the 50s and 60s to 180 by the end of his senior year.
Rippey’s plan for the fall is to major in statistics at Iowa State University.