One young woman grew alarmed when she saw Confederate flags pop up around town. Another student often quietly knitted to persevere through stress. A Black teenager in the South feared racist violence more than a virus.
Conversations with members of the Class of 2021 open a window on where America - from Maine to Texas and Colorado - stands now and its future.
"We value each other's opinions, and we value each other's backgrounds," said 18-year-old Kate Munson. A seventh-generation rancher on the arid southern Plains, Munson wants to become a voice for rural America by studying agricultural communications and business, and then possibly getting a law degree. She is confident her generation will break through the toxic talk of the first decade of social media and find ways to bridge gaps across now-yawning cultural divides.
"Politics became a part of everyday conversation," said 17-year-old Megan Bickford from Maine. At 16, she cut ties with a close friend who became a vocal supporter of Trump. Bickford, who was raised in a liberal family, said she grew increasingly alarmed when she saw Confederate flags pop up on porches or vehicles northwest of Portland, where she and her family live.
"The way I use my voice is educating myself so I can educate others," said 18-year-old Jamari Prim from North Carolina. As a Black teenager living in Raleigh, North Carolina, he said he feared racial disparities across the board - not just the virus and police-involved shootings, both of which have affected the Black community.
"I need to help with something that's bigger picture," said Shane Wolf from Denver, Colorado.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Wolf, an 18-year-old of Ponca, Ojibwe, Santee Sioux and white ancestry, wants to pursue law to help Native Americans protect the environment.
His mother is a consultant with a master's in public health who supports Native American communities. His grandfather is a historian and Wolf grew up listening to his stories about Native Americans.
Wolf wanted to be a corporate lawyer until he learned of the Standing Rock Sioux's opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline running under their water source. Family friends were among protesters who joined the Sioux in the Dakotas during Wolf's freshman year at Denver's North High School. The 1,200-mile pipeline was completed but is tangled in legal challenges.