It was Proctor High School senior Cody Urie’s turn to give his senior symposium — a 35-minute presentation on a social issue of his choice that he researched, but he was having some technical difficulties.

The symposium is considered a rite of passage for Proctor seniors, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed school buildings across the country, it's now exclusively online.

Urie was having issues showing his screen on the Google Meet videoconferencing service and then his hot spot cut out. Hours before his symposium, Urie told the News Tribune, he was a little nervous, but during his technical difficulties, he kept cool. The class waited as Urie charged up a different computer and joined the class once again.

Urie’s topic was about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes. Urie is planning to play football at Concordia College in Moorhead next year. Urie said the symposiums aren’t easier online, but are a lot less stressful.

“I don't have to see everybody staring at me while I'm doing my presentation,” he said. “I know that they're there, but I'm looking at a screen, so it's a lot different.”

Technical difficulties was Trevor Koski’s biggest fear, but luckily, his symposium about money in politics went off without a hitch. Koski said distance learning allowed him more time to research his topic and be prepared.

“Normally, we would just get seven days in class to work on it,” Urie said. “You get most of it done, but with distance learning and no sports, there’s even more time.”

Instead of doing a presentation, students can choose to make a movie on their topic, which is a much more ambitious project. Rachel Krajewski and Olivia Henderickson decided to take on a movie and they said distance learning has actually made it easier for them to work on their project.

“It made it a little bit easier in the sense that we could take a whole day to shoot the movie rather than worry about working around our already busy schedules,” Krajewski said.

Krajewski and Hendrickson said they decided to do a movie because they’ve worked on a video project every year of high school together and they thought this would be a nice way to cap their senior year. Their topic: cults.

“We’re very into conspiracy theories,” Hendrickson said. “We find it so fascinating and we were told to choose a topic that we find fascinating.”

Shown is the poster Oliva Henderickson and Rachel Krajewski had made for their senior symposium movie. (Submitted photo)
Shown is the poster Oliva Henderickson and Rachel Krajewski had made for their senior symposium movie. (Submitted photo)

Their movie, “The Sun: A Documentary About One of the Most Private Cults in the State,” is set to premiere next week over Google Meet, which both said is disappointing.

“So when the other movies premiered, they would have it in our library. They would have this whole production and anybody in the school who wanted to go to the premiere could just go and watch it. It was a big thing and everybody could see it,” Hendrickson said. “Ours is going to be kind of difficult because we have to do it over a call.”

All four students said the most difficult part is getting help with questions from their social science teacher, Glen Gilderman.

“I imagine that if I was in the classroom, it would be a little bit easier to get questions answered or get instructions from him about how he wants it laid out and stuff like that,” Koski said. “Even though we have the ability to do Google Meet with him, I just think it would be easier communication-wise.”

Gilderman said though students are distance learning, they are all handling these symposiums well.

“We’ve definitely learned some lessons along the way in order to make sure the video isn’t choppy,” he said.

Gilderman said the symposiums are a large part of a student's grade. Not only do they have to do a presentation on their topic, but they also have to submit an outline and their sources of information. Gilderman also asks students questions throughout and at the end of their presentation to test their understanding of the topic.

“I tell them I'll know within three minutes if they’re an expert or not — if they actually did the research. I can tell right away,” Gilderman said. “I think the most important thing it teaches them is if they work hard, they can stand up in front of people and talk about anything for 35 minutes.”