The members of the high school Class of 2020 face the prospect that COVID-19 will rob them of memories that many high school graduates treasure all their lives – prom, commencement and even Ditch Day.
They’ve lost part-time jobs and many have seen their parents lose theirs.
Even starting college or university life – something they’ve spent most of their young lives preparing for – is clouded in uncertainty.
AFN reached out to some Ahwatukee high school seniors about the impact of school closures. These are their stories.
As president of the Desert Vista High School student body, Morgann Kelly had been busy with many preparations for a big send-off for the Thunder Class of 2020.
At the same time, she was wrapping up her studies in preparation for entering Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, where she plans to major in justice studies as a member of ASU’s Leadership Scholarship Program.
“I was working with my other student body officers on planning the elections,” she said. “Additionally, we were working on a plethora of fun, end of the year events for students. However, because of school closures, we have had to convert to online outreach to students.”
Admitting “this wasn’t ideal,” she said the council “is doing their best to stay active” and are hoping residents and business can provide suggestions and support at their social media accounts, @dv.studentcouncil on Instagram and @dv_stuco on Twitter.
While she said her teachers “have been very active with Zoom sessions, assignments and communication” and feels that she and her classmates are lucky to have such amazing support staff,” she lamented, “I truly miss the classroom environment and it is definitely harder to learn from home.
Closures weren’t activated until she and the rest of the Thunder Speech and Debate Team won its 16th state championship in 17 years.
Right about now, she and many peers across Arizona would be putting the final touches on one of the big events of their high school career – getting ready for the prom.
“The Junior Class Student Council had been working so hard all year for the big day,” said Morgann, who had bought her gown months ago. She appreciates the council and Junior Class President Mackenzie Visnansky’s work “for planning such an amazing prom” even though that gown won’t be worn.
“Personally, I think it is important to put the situation into perspective,” she said of the prom. “While it is unfortunate and sad, seniors across the whole country are experiencing the same emotions.”
There are other experiences as well that the virus has jeopardized – including Ditch Day, the senior breakfast, senior t-shirts and senior spirit week.”
Though Tempe Union has not officially canceled commencement and some of those other activities, she as been working with the senior class student council, Senior Class President, Nicole Kennedy and Student Body Spirit Director Karly Makay.
They’ve created an Instagram account – @dv2020timecapsule – and are asking seniors to send in photos, memories, future plans and other thoughts and reports.
“Additionally, we will be posting Senior Superlatives and many more fun senior events and recognitions,” Morgann said. “Also, in collaboration with eight of Arizona’s Student Body Presidents I have created another Instagram account called @azclassof2020. We are approaching 10,000 followers and have a team of 180 Arizona student body presidents working alongside us.
“Our goal is to unify and celebrate the class of 2020, by posting year highlights, senior spotlights, planning future state-wide events, creating merch in which our proceeds will go to AZ hospitals and coronavirus research. We have been contacted by multiple marketing groups and event organizers and we are looking forward to getting our agenda rolling.”
Still, losing out on graduation day looms as a possibility.
“If commencement is canceled I would be very disappointed and heartbroken,” Morgann said. “My preference, and I know I share this opinion with other seniors, is that graduation is merely postponed. While I understand the necessary health precautions for a postponed graduation ceremony, I truly believe it is worth it.
“During this time I have spoken to many Desert Vista alumni and one message that they all share, is that you cannot replicate the feeling of graduation. How it feels to line up, how it feels to get your name called, and to receive your diploma. How it feels to move your tassel from right to left and throw your cap in the air in one celebratory ‘We did it!’ while blue and gold fireworks fill the Ahwatukee sky.
“High school graduation is something that can never be replaced, a feeling that can never be replicated. The forever photos where you’re arm in arm with your best friends, standing proudly next to your beaming grandparents and overwhelmingly happy on the Desert Vista football field. These photos are for a lifetime of keeping and represent memories that shaped Desert Vista students into the proud, young adults that they are today.”
Desert Vista senior JD Mettham has been busily pursuing distant learning from Tempe Union as he eyes a fall start at Loras College in Iowa, where he plans to play baseball and study electromechanical engineering.
“So far the teachers have been good,” said JD, who played catcher on the Thunder baseball team throughout high school.
Campus closures hit him after he had gone through the stress of the baseball recruiting and school selection processes.
“I was just beginning to enjoy my senior year,” he said.
As for missing out on prom, he candidly replied, “It sucks, I did not go to prom last year so I never got to experience it.”
Like Morgann and other classmates, JD would like to see the district postpone rather than cancel commencement exercise “because it’s a huge accomplishment and a milestone.”
Regardless, he said, he and his family “will continue to push back our celebration but we will not cancel our graduation open house party no matter how long it takes.”
And he thinks that maybe it’s time for the country to think of something for high school seniors: “Have a national day for the class of 2020.”
Commencement is extra special for Katrina Woldt: She already had been selected as valedictorian for the Valley Christian High School Class of 2020 – a recognition of her 4.18 weighted GPA and her involvement in two bands, two choir groups and cross country and track in addition to her singing with the Phoenix Children’s Chorus Encore Choir and her piano and euphonium for her church.
With plans to be part of the Honors Scholars Program at Calvin University in Michigan, where she hopes to major in biochemistry and public health, she’s found it “difficult to get work done efficiently when there aren’t structured in-person classes.”
“I also miss playing and singing in musical ensembles that make up the majority of my day,” Katrina said. “It’s all kind of disconnected from what I’ve done normally for the past 3+ years. And, I really miss giving my classmates hugs.”
She finds come comfort in the fact that Valley Christian teachers “are putting together virtual choirs and bands for which we individually record performances. This will be an exciting new way to perform because we’ve never done anything like this before.”
But that can’t take away her disappointment about missing out on the prom, for which she bought two gowns “in case I couldn’t figure out which one to wear.”
Indeed, while her classmates are “sad too that we don’t get to finish off our senior year normally and have a fun bonding experience before we go our separate ways,” she explained “we’re all making a lot of jokes about it to keep our spirits up.”
While there have been rumors commencement will be online, Katrina and her classmates don’t know yet what Valley Christian plans.
“I will still give my valedictorian’s address but I’m pretty sure it will be prerecorded,” she mused.
As for fall, “I’m hopeful to start college there on campus. Four months seems like enough time to get over this pandemic. However, if the curve needs to flatten out over a longer period of time, I am good with that too. As a Christian and going to a Christian school, I know that God has a plan through all of this.
She has similar advice for all seniors: “Don’t be discouraged, have faith, God is in control. Persevere with your academic pursuits. Work on developing a hobby or talent during your free time.”
Desert Vista senior Haidyn Moroz also is headed to ASU Barrett to study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
She misses the many on- and off-campus activities she participated in that came to an abrupt halt – including the National Charity League, National Honors Society and Rho Kappa.
She had been looking forward for five years to the Charity League’s senior recognition event.
“I have been playing my speech to my mom for five years now and wanted to know what it finally felt like to sit in front of the group and be recognized as I saw so many other seniors before me experience,” Haidyn said.
She also was looking forward to her prom.
“I have been looking to my senior prom since the moment I walked into Desert Vista,” she said. “It breaks my heart that I won’t be able to have this experience that most people remember their whole life. My dress came in during the first week of quarantine and I broke out in tears because I loved it and I won’t be able to wear it.”
She, too, hopes Tempe Union simply postpones commencement exercises.
Even if they were pushed into the thick of the blistering summer, she said, “I would attend because I have been working hard and looking forward to that moment for 12 years now. Even though it won’t be the same, we deserve to have that significant experience that we all have been striving for.”
“People talk about their senior year and graduation for their whole lives, it is a memory that people are proud of and want to share with the world,” Haidyn said. “My story is going to be different. I will be telling my kids how I was forced to stay at home during the most important quarter in my senior year and I did not get to experience the things everyone else got to.
“It is not fair that we are losing out on this moment but as a class, we have overcome a lot and it has only made us stronger.”
“Walking across the stage, getting your diploma, and throwing your cap in the air after you graduate is something a senior looks forward to after 12 years of hard work because it signifies that it has finally paid off. I have been dreaming about that moment and it hurts me that I won’t get to experience what so many others have.”
Desert Vista senior Katie Kreiner has big plans for the fall: taking up a double major in business management and entrepreneurship. She, too, is saddened by the campus’ closure.
“Although I do feel that I am still getting the academic lessons I need through online classes and assignments, it still sucks that none of us will ever get to go back to high school,” Katie said.
She already had her gown for the prom, explaining senior proms are one of those moments “ingrained in our heads for years – that it is the most magical night of high school.”
But Katie is woeful about the abruptness of how everything about senior end came to such an abrupt halt.
“I think what upsets me most is that I had my last day of high school, my last day attending the same school as my best friends, my last day seeing all of the awesome teachers I had, and I didn’t even know it.
“I had dreamt about my last day of high school since I can remember, along with so many others, and now we don’t get to experience that dream.
“We didn’t get to do senior spirit week, senior ditch day, or even throw all of our papers in the air and say goodbye to each other. We walked through the halls of high school for the last time in our lives and not a single one of us got to say goodbye.”
“All of the seniors that were looking forward to senior night, never got it, and they played their last high school game without knowing it was the last time they would step onto that field, track or dance floor,” she continued.
“I think the reason the class of 2020 is having such a hard time is because we experienced all of our ‘lasts,’ but not a single one of us knew it, causing us to miss out on the chance to say goodbye.”
She flatly opposes the idea of a virtual graduation, stating “the thought of walking across a computer screen to receive my diploma is depressing.”
“I don’t want to have to tell my kids that I didn’t get a real high school graduation. I don’t want my parents to miss the opportunity to see me walk across that stage in my cap and gown.
“Think back to all the emotions you felt on your night of graduation. The excitement that you were finally done with high school, the anticipation for what was to come, the nerves that you might trip on your way up the steps of that stage.
“Now imagine if you didn’t get that, but instead it was your face on a computer screen with the school administration on the other side saying ‘Congratulations you did it!’ It is just not the same.”
“It would be amazing if we were able to walk in June or July, because at least we would get to walk.”
Simultaneously, Katie keeps the situation in perspective, saying, “I am so grateful for the community I live in, and all of the people who live here. Through this difficult time, I know that everyone has their own problems, and the world is going through this together.”
And she too has a message: “Parents of class of 2020, please try to understand what your child is going through. We know that there are so many worse things happening in the world and we are not trying to be selfish.
“We are just sad with the circumstances of how our last year in high school ended. So please, go give your child a hug, tell them you love them and that things are going to be okay, give them hope for the future, get them excited about college or whatever the next chapter of their life is, because at the end of the day, you are our support system and support is what we all need right now.”