One School Year Later: NYC Teens on Their “Last Day” Outfits—And Graduating During a Revolution

High School Senior on Their Last Day of School

In September, we published a story in which a handful of (very cool, it must be said again) New York City high school students explained their first day of school outfits—and all the excitement and anxieties that were woven into them. Then, around the end of the school year and the beginning of the pandemic, we made plans with teen photographer Olivia Wein to re-photograph everyone in their *last* day of school outfits. She began setting up remote photo sessions with each of her friends, but soon after, George Floyd was murdered, which was followed by massive protests and demonstrations across the country, and Olivia and her friends were the first to say that the focus of the story needed to shift. So we asked them: What do you want to do now? Over an email thread and video chat, they landed on this—a story about how the past school year measured up to their expectations, how they felt when the pandemic threw their plans into disarray, and, inspired by the social justice movement that has taken hold in recent weeks, their thoughts on the kind of world they hope is beginning to take shape.

Juliet (Rising Junior)

On the end of the year: For my last day of school, I chose to wear a fitted crop top and a pair of dark-wash Lucky Brand jeans. This not only showed how sunburned I had gotten, but how little I care about a dress code. The necklaces I’m wearing are all from my mom, Gina. I sneak into her room and steal things she keeps hidden away from when she was my age. To accentuate the dress, I chose to put on a pair of brown boots. I may look a little like a cowgirl, but the boots help to keep my height a secret.

This year has not been the best. I think that’s a common feeling across the world. In saying that, I also recognize that quarantine has taught many people, myself included, to appreciate what’s around you. As much as I was wishing for school to be over, I miss the simple tasks throughout my day. I especially miss the train ride to class, the coffee stand outside my school, and the tedious bells that sang throughout the hallways.

On the future: The kind of world I want to graduate into is one that has changed drastically from our current reality. In my role to better the world as an individual, I’ll make constant efforts to take advantage of my privilege. Our generation is full of some of the greatest, most passionate, and hardworking people and it’s not the time to be quiet. Since I’ve been given this platform to speak, I’d like to take this opportunity to support Black-owned businesses. Here is a list of 19 great Black-owned businesses in NYC:

Buy Better Foods (Brooklyn)
The Bergen (Brooklyn)
BK9 (Brooklyn)
BCakeNY (Brooklyn)
Mikey likes it East Village (Manhattan)
Brooklyn Chop House (Brooklyn)
Field trip (Manhattan)
Melba’s (Manhattan)
Uptown Poke (Manhattan)
Ital Kitchen (Brooklyn)
Snowdonia (Queens)
Kings Juice Bar (Queens)
Breezes Island Grill (Queens)
Frank’s Soup Bowl (The Bronx)
Juices for Life (The Bronx)
Balimaya (The Bronx)
Lloyd’s Carrot Cake (The Bronx)
SI Fish & More (Staten Island)
Koten’s Restaurant (Staten Island)

Noah (Graduating Senior)
High School Senior on Their Last Day of School

On the end of the year: Pre-pandemic I was doing really well mentally, school was slowing down, and I just had my first photography show. Then absolute isolation. As someone who is very social, it was super hard for me to learn how to sit with myself. Doing online school didn’t feel real. Before we “graduated,” Olivia asked me if I wanted to participate in this story and I was over the moon. The pandemic really took a toll on my mental health, but overall I think it allowed for a lot of introspection and growth. I took an Instagram break WHICH I HIGHLY RECOMMEND and through that began to create art for me again. It’s so important to do that, and made me feel much better about my work and myself.

I wore a netted top under my graduation gown. I never got a chance to actually wear it to a graduation ceremony, but it was fun to add my own flare and personality to my graduation look. For a long time, I was very insecure with my body and myself. I think if you told me two or three years ago that I’d wear stuff like netted tank tops, I wouldn’t believe you. For me, this is an act of rebellion against my former self. I felt so confident and iconic.

On the future: After viewing the horrific murder of George Floyd and how the world reacted, I truly believe it was a wake-up call (the thousandth one at that). The day after, I was in the park with my friends and some of the first protestors walked by and screamed, “Join us!” After that, I went to protests, sit-ins, and vigils almost every day. I’m a photographer and I knew I had to document it. I’ve been trying to actively re-share BLM content every day on Instagram. I think it’s so important to keep it up. It not only forces the people who follow you to see facts, information, and guidance, but it also shows your Black peers, friends, family, loved ones, and even mutuals that you are actively standing by them. Overall, it’s important to shine a light on queer BIPOC, and in the future, I plan on making more work surrounding the Black LGBTQIA+ community. The world is changing. I know it is. People are waking up. I am waking up. I am so glad I went to those protests and I highly suggest anyone who is interested and able to attend one.

Maya (Rising Senior)
High School Senior on Their Last Day of School

On the end of the year: A lot changed for me this year… a lot a lot. I feel that I’m an entirely different person than I was at the beginning of the year, for a lot of different reasons. For starters, I dress a little differently, or at least think about the way I dress differently. Quarantine has also been a big change. My social meter has just completely flipped to adapt to the new environment. It’s weird and I’m still adjusting to spending way more time with just myself than I’d like, to be honest. Thinking too much.

I’m wearing two hand-me-downs from my grandma, the red sweater and the skirt (which is actually a dress with the top folded inward!), and my shirt is from Olivia’s zine, Loserzine! I chose the three items because they’re currently my favorite things to wear, both separately and together. I love the bright red of the big cozy sweater on top of the calm white of the breezy relaxed shirt and skirt. The skirt/dress was really great for the June weather, plus it really brings me into the “out in the country” vibes of quarantining in Sullivan County, NY. I wish I had a blouse with poofy sleeves tho, prairie style ¯_(ツ)_/¯

On the future: I don’t think it’s my place to dictate what the end result of the protests should be, but there are definitely values I believe in that I would love to be instituted. At the same time, I understand that I’m not the masthead of the movement or any sort of decision-maker for Black voices. I think my role in creating a better world is to stand behind and support Black voices (both in the movement and always), and to actively support and advocate for causes I believe in. I think pretty much every non-Black person can afford to learn more too.

Jack (Rising Sophomore)

On the end of the year: From the beginning, I felt that this year was going to be about change. I started out shy, but as I met new people, specifically ones who had interests similar to my own, I felt my self-confidence increase. Of course, just as I started to feel comfortable, school got shut down and we were forced into a situation that none of us ever saw coming. Being a part of this ‘new world’ has allowed me to explore those interests in a super in-depth fashion. When I was around people who were interested in the same things I was, I felt as though I was constantly in a rush to be on their level, but during this time alone I’ve been able to move at my own speed. I think this year really brought things into perspective: at the beginning, I thought the worst things that would happen would be my mom moving out of the city and my sister leaving for college, but when everything began to change, I started to feel that those worries were privileges. Because we’re not yet out of this ‘era,’ I’m not quite sure how to summarize what I have learned (haha), but I do know that I am changing, and the world is changing, and I think both will be for the better.

Jack with his sister (and the photographer of this story), Olivia.

For my last-day outfit, I thought I would go with the simple collared shirt—something a little bit more formal, because graduation feels more formal than the first day of school would be (where your goal is just to meet some cool people). To get my collared shirt, I turned to my dad’s wardrobe. After finding the shirt I liked, I showed my sister, Olivia, and she immediately seemed excited and pulled a blue sharp-collared jacket out from her closet to go with it. I started out opposed to the idea because it didn’t quite fit, but through her enthusiasm I found myself liking the combination more and more. I looked like someone straight out of the 70s.

On the future: I think my role, and specifically the role of my generation, is to address and abolish the prejudices that have been passed down from generations before us. It’s our job to fix what has not been working. It’s been so inspirational to see people my age protesting and using their voices. Their action motivates more people to join them, as well as educates people, especially those of us who’ve grown up with so much privilege, and I think that is really important. I want all of our voices to be heard without being met by violence and hate. A world where learning, unlearning, and fighting back against oppression is a part of everything we do.

Shandra (Graduating Senior)
High School Senior on Their Last Day of School

On the end of the year: Usually, I’m over the top with my outfits. I like when what I’m wearing shows my creativity and expresses how I’m feeling that day. You would think that on my graduation—which I’ve been waiting for for 13 years—I would wear something over-the-top-times-10, but this moment actually came with sadness and overwhelming disappointment. Because of the stress of the world failing me and all other marginalized groups of people, accompanied with the immense outrage and grieving coming from an entire world, I really didn’t even want to attend. The lack of progress in the world is starting to make me question my own progress and achievements. I came to the realization that my graduation wasn’t a celebration of anything. So my outfit reflected my lack of care and motivation.

This year I discovered a person within myself that I’m proud to be. In a lot of ways, I felt like I hadn’t done enough in terms of tangible goals and progression with money, but in the end I realized that this past school year has been one of my happiest. I’ve grown so much as a person. I’ve gotten more in tune with who I am and who I want to be. I’ve worked on my flaws. I’ve worked on my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

On the future: I want to graduate into a world led with love and care, where cops enforce humanity, where I am free. I want to graduate into a world where I don’t have to prove my worth or fight for it to be recognized in both society and law—a world where I am included, rather than marginalized. I want to graduate into a world where my skin doesn’t define me. I want to graduate into a world I am happy to be a part of.

Ellison (Graduating Senior)
High School Senior on Their Last Day of School

On the end of the year: My life changed quite drastically this year and I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I definitely thought this was going to be my year, like REALLY thought. In some ways, it was: I got into ESMOD, which is a fashion design school in Paris. It’s also where one of my favorite designers went (which I wore in the first article)… JACQUEMUS. AND my best friend is coming to Paris with me! It’s really a dream come true and the best “light at the end of tunnel” that I could’ve asked for. But this year also held some really deep lows that forced me to learn about myself in ways I never thought I would. Between friendship issues, mom issues, and school BS, it was a lot. Then Corona hit and everything became so uncertain, and the stupidity of world leaders became extremely apparent.

I’m not wearing my cap and gown in protest of my school’s overwhelming neglect for sexual assault and other discriminatory claims. School authorities have ignored multitudes of hate (for more information check out @youarethesun). My school was a toxic environment that excused homophobia, sexual assault, and blatant racism, always protecting the oppressor in the situation. No one was held accountable.

So, for my last-day outfit, I’m wearing a thrifted Lanvin suit jacket, IRIS sheer striped top, Macintosh 007 black pants, Los Altos cowboy boots, a yellow Dior saddle bag, Alaïn Mikli sunglasses, and my four rings. The pieces I chose are some of my favorite items that I have held close throughout my life. By wearing them, I felt as if I was honoring the work I put into school and abandoning all the grief I associate with that era. Closure has been hard to reach, especially without a graduation. I’ve been through seven schools since elementary school, forced out simply because I had two moms or because I am gay. The whole school journey was not fun, but I am done! Done! It feels crazy to say, or write!

On the future: I want to graduate into a world that recognizes the privileges afforded to some and uses it to lift up those who are oppressed. I want to live in a world that listens to each of its citizens and helps just because it’s the right thing to do. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like this could be reality for a while, but people continue to fight for it and that gives me hope. It’s going to be a lot of work to change the deeply rooted prejudice that governs society. Going into the fashion field, I’d like to reform some major issues in the industry. Fashion is one of the biggest sources of pollution, it has deeply ingrained practices of cultural appropriation, a long history of lacking in representation and diversity of minority groups, along with mistreatment and abuse of factory workers. I feel like we keep seeing designers make the same mistakes without truly making any change.

Nico (Rising Senior)
High School Senior on Their Last Day of School

On the end of the year: I wore below-the-knee black leather boots with white knee-high socks, a white miniskirt, a jean jacket, and a baseball cap. Everything was thrifted—which is definitely reflective of the kind of world I’d like to graduate into. I think sustainability should be prioritized. The hat I wore felt particularly right for this occasion, because it not only has sentimental value (I’ve had it a long time) but because it lets me bring that sentiment with me, as I move into my senior year of high school.

I don’t think I’d be the only one to say a lot changed this year, and definitely more than I expected. Pre-pandemic I felt really driven to work toward the goals I had set for myself. I felt a lot of growth since my previous year, however, COVID-19 threw a huge curveball and for a while I found all the changes really hard to navigate. I’m relieved I was able to stick with it and end the school year on good terms.

On the future: Although I’m only going into my senior year, I’d like to graduate into a world much different than our world now. Ideally, I’d like to start with equal rights for POC, as well as a President who won’t drive the nation into the ground. There are countless issues with the world today—police brutality and the marginalization of POC, as well as poverty and unemployment due to the pandemic, the education system, disproportionate funding, climate change, and the current state of the earth. Although some of these issues are now being addressed, it doesn’t mean they’re anywhere close to being solved. People, especially people in power, and leaders of this country, need to start taking serious accountability. Change will be created, one way or another.

Indigo (Rising Senior)
High School Senior on Their Last Day of School

On the end of the year: When we did the “first day” shoot I had just decided to move to Florida to live with my mom for the year and finish school online. I had no idea what the year would be like and took a very “go with the flow” mindset. It ended up going by very quickly and I’m so happy I made this decision because I also got to put much more attention on my mental health. Going from a big New York specialized high school (Brooklyn Tech) to online in Florida would have sounded crazy to me freshman year, but I learned that there are always different paths one can take, and that I don’t have to stick to one strict plan for success, especially when I don’t have a specific definition of success for myself. Basically: Trust the process!

I like the different textures of what I’m wearing. The skirt is shimmery and makes me think of a sophisticated rich lady and then the knit top and its colors makes the fit more fun. The skirt works because I feel like a smart, badass woman for getting through this year! And then the top I just love because of the bright colors. It has a raw hem from when I cut it shorter, so I get a whole playful vibe with it. It’s like the part of me that’s ready to think about summer and what’s ahead!

On the future: The past few months, in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19, have been exhausting at times, but overall, I do feel so much hope in the way society is starting to address issues that would have been strictly “social justice warrior” territory before. There’s a huge amount to be done and I’ve recently been thinking a lot about education. Switching to online school this year, watching more documentaries, thinking about my late diagnosis of ADHD and what that means when it comes to how I learn, and, of course, all the information being spread about systematic racism, has culminated in me realizing my passion for justice in education.

In freshman year, my English teacher at Brooklyn Tech (shout out Mr. Lederer!) taught me about redlining and how not being able to own a house alone smothered so much opportunity for families of color in America. It completely changed the way I viewed Black history and the current world around me. I definitely felt like it was something I needed to learn at a younger age. Long story short, I now very much want my career to be involved with curriculum design in the education system. I’m excited about it!

Photos by Olivia Wein.

Mallory Rice

Mallory Rice is a writer who sometimes has bangs and sometimes does not. She was previously the executive editor of this fine website.

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