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Teen Photographer Creates Poignant Gallery of Mira Costa Seniors

May 31, 2020 08:33AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Photographer Leah Szabo, a Mira Costa sophomore, is often in demand among her peers for the fun portraits she takes and posts on Instagram. But when the COVID-19 shutdown hit, Szabo turned her focus to Mira Costa High School seniors and the milestone events that they were missing. 

Szabo reached out to seniors across a variety of activities and created a photo exhibit that she calls "Canceled Class." The photos depict Mira Costa seniors, looking out from their windows and holding up captions of the significant events in their lives that had been canceled.

"It had been two weeks into quarantine, and one morning my mom and her friend showed me [photographer] Sue Barr's window portraits. I thought it was an interesting concept, and I had been so bored cooped up at home, I knew this could be a creative outlet for me while still practicing social distancing," said Szabo.

Szabo continued: "The main focus was on [Mira Costa] seniors, because this last year before college is something that most of them look forward to. It's not just about the cancellation of prom or postponement of graduation, but they are athletes, performers, and scholars. They can't participate in the events they worked so hard for due to reasons that are out of their control. I wanted to show that I see them and their hard work by taking photos of them."

All told, Szabo took portraits of seniors from a range of activities such as Model United Nations, orchestra, ASB [student government], volleyball, and the dance team.

Following is an excerpt of her exhibit, with supporting text by Charlotte Sabina. 

Canceled Class

Photos by Leah Szabo; Text by Charlotte Sabina


The impact of the nationwide shutdown is beyond the cancellation of prom or postponement of graduation. These students are athletes, performers, and scholars. Their hard work and dedication would only reach an audience so far as their living room.

I wanted to give them a way to share their stories and their hard through these photos. The following are profiles of the class of 2020 at Mira Costa High School, in Manhattan Beach, California.

Collette Tibetts. Photo via Leah Szabo.

 Collette Tibbetts had planned a trip to the UK with a group of seniors. After years of long hours at a bakery, she finally saved up enough money to travel, “It worked out perfectly, we booked the tickets.” Tibbetts recalled her excitement about the trip, “[I was thinking] what’s going to stop us? I mean, nothing is going to stop us, nothing is going to get in the way of this.”

When President Trump announced news about the UK lockdown, she still thought her trip could be salvaged. It couldn’t. Tibbetts canceled her flight three days before I took her photos, “It’s senior year, it was an end-of-high-school, before-we-go-our-separate-ways trip. You know it won’t be the same. It sucks, it really does suck.”

Tibbetts seemed determined to still go on her trip, albeit the uncertain times. However, she recognized that the trip would be very different from her original plan, “When am I ever going to get that chance to do that again with those people?”

Tibbetts is an award-winning participant of the Model United Nations program at MiraCosta High School, and an honors student. “You pay your way all of these years of doing school for second-semester senior year. You can really appreciate the time and the effort that you put into things. I don’t really get to celebrate that. My brother is graduating college, and he’s going to get a slip in the mail as his graduation.”

Tibbets will be attending University of California, Berkeley next fall.


Ella Brown. Photo via Leah Szabo.

Ella Brown had the opportunity of a lifetime: She was headed to Italy with Mira Costa High School’s Grammy Award-winning choir during Holy Week. She would perform at iconic landmarks, such as St. Mark's Cathedral and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.


"I’ve been looking forward to this for over a year. It’s been in the making for a long, long time. I’ve been excited about it for a long, long time” explained Brown, recalling long hours working on her part of a trio in the Fly Away Medley, arranged by Mark Hayes. Brown and the rest of the choir were told about the cancellation four weeks before the trip was set.

“This would have been my first trip out of the country. We were going to be singing at the Vatican, that’s literally a once in a lifetime opportunity, so just to have it taken away is pretty devastating. It was nice to know that we were working towards this huge thing, regardless of the tiresome and tedious hours.”

Brown cried when she received news of the cancellation of her trip.

Additionally, Brown is a dedicated student. “I was getting ready for APs, fully prepared. I just feel like it's taken my entire year away. I miss my friends, so much.” Brown will be attending El Camino Community College in the fall.


Lindy (left) and Katie McNamara. Photo by Leah Szabo.

 Lindy McNamara is an avid dancer, looking forward to Dance Team Nationals this spring. “I’ve been on the team for 4 years, so I was super excited for my last year on the team and Nationals is like our last hurrah. Our competition team learned our dances in the summer and we’ve been working on them the entire year.”

All sporting events have been cancelled until 2020, leaving senior athletes without an opportunity to put their practice into action.

Additionally, McNamara enjoys her social time, “This quarantine has made a huge impact on my senior year because second semester is supposed to be all fun and living the best of our last moments before we leave, so it’s sad that we have to spend those moments isolated.”

Lindy’s sister Katie McNamera described a similar loss: “[I spent] lots of hours in the gym sacrificing my social life, all for nothing. “

Lindy McNamara will be attending American University of Paris next fall and Katie McNamara will be at the University of Washington.




Bella McDaniel. Photo by Leah Szabo.

 Bella McDaniel had rehearsed tirelessly for her upcoming musical, “It was something that meant the world to me. The musical is such an amazing process and I was so excited to have a role.”


McDaniel recalled rehearsing for hours on end, every day. The musical’s cancellation took a toll on McDaniel, “I was crushed. So much hard work for nothing.”

McDaniel explained that the scope of cancellations was so much more than just the events themselves. “...No drama final-bow or senior speech, no goodbyes, it’s really, really hard.”

McDaniel will be attending New York University in the fall.


Kelly Shea. Photo via Leah Szabo.

Kelly Shea was forced to blindly choose her college. Shea was unable to tour schools due to the outbreak of the virus. “Things can look good on paper and be way different in real life. The only thing you could do about it was go on virtual tours and talk to counselors, but there’s a difference between seeing pictures and actually experiencing the campus and the students and faculty for yourself.” Shea did not have the resources to tour schools previously, and was counting on her senior year for school tours.


“Quite honestly it has been pretty devastating. For me, since I will be attending a college out of state, that means that my time with my friends is more limited than in-state students. I also love my teachers, and to realize I probably wont get to say goodbye to them and to all these people who I’ve grown up with who I probably will never see again, is pretty heartbreaking.”

Shea also described the daily sacrifices made during quarantine. “I just miss giving someone a
hug”.

Shea will be attending the University of Delaware next fall.

See more of Szabo's photos from this project in the attached gallery. Szabo can be reached at Leah Szabo Photography.


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