SOCASTEE, S.C. (WBTW) — The last year of high school is well underway for the class of 2024.

Graduating high school and moving on to the next chapter represents a major milestone for these seniors, who have had to overcome many obstacles. As they reach the finish line, they’ll be crossing the stage with a diploma and many more valuable less than they ever imagined.

Their high school experience has been a mystery bag full of surprises, from starting school without any knowledge of what COVID-19 was to now graduating in a post-pandemic world. They have navigated a lot and overcome even more.

Socastee High School senior Laney Barno was in the middle of a production of “Cats: The Musical” when she heard she wouldn’t be returning to school.

“We thought, oh, a two-week break from 13 shows in a week,” Barno said. “We’ll be able to rest, recuperate and come back, and it just happened to not be the case. School shut down. So not only did I have to learn to catch up on my work from what I missed in the week, but I now had to add virtual school on top of that, which is something that I realized would be, like, a really big undertaking.”

Barno and her classmates ended up finishing the school year online, but when they came back, things were vastly different.

“On days where we would dance and, like, choreography, we actually had taped off boxes that were six feet apart from each other,” Barno said.

It wasn’t just the arts that were affected. Socastee High School senior Whitney Argabrite dealt with COVID restrictions on the basketball court. 

“It was back whenever we didn’t know if the disease was carried through touch or through the air,” Argabrite said. “So, like, we would have to switch out basketballs every single time a dead ball happens. So every time out, every quarter change everything.” 

It was challenging and strange for everyone, but when the masks came off and the plexiglass came down, the new feeling in the air was palpable.

“It honestly made everything so much happier because we were able to see each other’s faces and, like, the way that our faces articulated,” Argabrite said. “So, like, you could tell after we took the mask off how somebody was feeling.”

Barno also experienced the happiness.

“I love to be able to communicate with people,” she said. “I like to communicate myself through writing, through dance, through singing. I just am very expressive. So being the happiness master lit, like lifted, and being able to see how other people express themselves was really like lightning for me.”

There’s no doubt it was a strange time — one that no other graduating class can say they experienced quite like the class of 2024. But both Argabrite and Barno said it made them stronger. 

“I think with this kind of isolation, it also helped us to figure out who we are as ourselves and how we work,” Arbabrite said.

Argabrite and Barno are both applying to colleges now. Argabrite hopes to go into the medical field, while Barno hopes to study law and become a prosecutor.

“I think one of the main things I learned … is being able to adapt to change, and how you adapt to change kind of formed who you are and what you want to be,” Barno said. 

Taylor Maresca is the weekend morning anchor and morning reporter at News13. She joined the team in June 2022 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Taylor is from Houston. Follow Taylor on X, formerly Twitter, and read more of her work here.