By Michael Kinney
In the next few weeks, the class of 2020 will be seeing an end to their high school careers. For the majority of them, it was like almost any other class that had come before it.
But that changed in March when all a sudden, the normal school days were turned upside down and they were left wondering what was going to happen on a daily basis.
“It has been pretty normal up until the week of Spring Break, then everything turned into a crazy set of events that initially felt like unbelief,” said Hunter Molloy. “Then I went into denial. Really, this has been a grieving cycle that has been all over the place.”
Molloy is an 18-year old at Elgin High School. Like thousands of seniors around the country, what was supposed to be the most rememberable time in high school turned into a time of uncertainty. Many of the plans he had to close out his high school career was canceled due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state and country.
“It was probably two to three weeks into the entire situation that it became real,” Molloy said. “It was real that I would not be able to see or talk to some of my classmates that I may never see again.”
It was pretty much the same way for McKenna Morrison, an 18-year old senior at Massilon Jackson High School in Ohio.
“This year just hasn’t felt real. Everyone is out of school but it’s not summer,” said Morrison, whose mother is a native of Lawton. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that March 14th was my last day ever at Jackson. I still feel like we’re on a long break and everything is going to go back to being normal.”
It wasn’t until March 25 that The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to close public schools statewide for the remainder of the school year.
The board also voted to turn to distance learning as a way to finish out the school year. This also meant an end to any extracurricular activities.
“We were devastated,” said Eisenhower High’s Landon Augusta. “We had been fighting all season long in soccer and did not get to finish our season. I missed out on my final moments with my team and not being able to fulfill something we had dreamed of for four years.”
For an athlete like Molloy, not being able to finish off all of the hard work he and his teammates had put in made the situation worse.
“I can remember when I found out that baseball and all sports for the spring season came out to be canceled by the OSSAA, it became real and quite frankly, devastating. Our baseball team was on the brink of another promising season and we were all hungry for another run in the state tournament,” Molloy said. “I do believe when I heard that this was over, I felt like I had been hit by a huge truck. I have played baseball since I could walk and all of a sudden that last season was ripped out right from underneath me.”
Morrison, who will attend Ohio University, is also an athlete, but her sport of soccer concluded in the fall. What she missed out on the most were the normal traditions that go along with being a senior.
“Covid-19 really took away my last memories at Jackson. I didn’t have a prom, I have no official last day of school, and the thing that I’m most missing out on is my graduation,” Morrison said. “You only get to graduate once from high school and unfortunately, we do not get to do that. Yes, we all graduate but there’s no actual ceremony. When I heard that we weren’t going to get to walk across the stage I was very upset I may not have shown it but I was. That’s the one thing I was looking forward to. I didn’t care so much about prom but graduation was the one thing I wanted to have.”
At her school, Morrison said they have graduation plans for a drive-by ceremony on March 28. It is not how she envisioned it.
“Each graduate will be allowed one car and we can fit as many people in the car legally. We are supposed to wear our cap and gown as well. When we drive up the staff will hand us the case to our diploma and take a picture but we are not allowed out of the car,” Morrison said. “We are assigned a certain time to arrive. Then they will mail us our diploma. This is all happening on the day we were supposed to graduate. I think it’s every kid’s goal to walk across that stage and graduate. We spent 12 years trying to get to that point and now that’s taken from us. All our hard work won’t be celebrated the right way. Walking across that stage is an accomplishment. I think it’s very upsetting to the grandparents and parents. They always look forward to watching their grandkid/kid walk across the stage.”
In Oklahoma, different school districts have varying plans for graduation ceremonies. Lawton Public Schools is scheduled to have virtual graduation for three high schools and Gateway Success Center on May 22.
The Moore School district has pushed their ceremonies back into late June and will have their seniors walk the stage at Cox Convention Center. If they have to postpone the services, they will be moved to July.
Molloy, who is heading to Cameron University, is still hoping he will be able to walk the stage as well, but the odds are against him. His graduation is set for March 15th.
“Thankfully, Elgin Public Schools is still working on finding a way to try their very best to make this happen for us,” Molloy said. “I am so very grateful to them and our community for rallying around us and finding ways to honor our class even during this time. We do not know if or when this may happen, but it is not out of the question. I, along with most of my classmates, continue to pray that we will get the full graduation experience.”
For Augusta, he is coming to grips with not being able to complete his high school career as he wanted. As he heads off to trade school, he is looking forward to getting the next chapter in his life started.
“I regret it. I want to go back and still have all those memories with my friends,” Augusta said. “But on another note, getting into the real world fast and moving on getting a job wasn’t too bad either. The one thing I have learned is don’t take anything for granted. Our last moments in high school were stripped away, it makes you realize all the things you would go back and redo.”
While they are unable to go back and get a redo, the graduating seniors are in a position to still do amazing things. During his virtual commencement speech May 16, former President Barack Obama pointed that out to the class.
“No one does big things by themselves,” Obama said. “If we’re going to save the environment and defeat future pandemics, we’re going to have to do it together. So be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us.
“When everything’s up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape.”