This year’s Liberty Bell High School seniors will remember their rite of passage like no other class in history. They, like millions of graduates around the globe, will be the Class of Coronavirus — the class whose graduation traditions were stolen and reimagined in ways previously unthought.
When the governor closed all schools for the remainder of the year, the State Board of Education had to address the issue of graduating seniors immediately. Their guidelines essentially allowed for seniors “on track” for graduation the green light to graduate. For Liberty Bell, this was an easy decision because all their students were on track, according to Erika Spellman, school counselor. Therefore, students who were passing their classes prior to the closure, will graduate. Education is still being provided via virtual learning at all grade levels, and seniors in Advanced Placement classes are still under the gun to take the AP exams, though even the requirements for those have been loosened.
This time of year usually represents a significant milestone for graduating seniors. Spring quarter is often rife with senioritis. Seniors academically check out by March anyway as they mentally prepare for their next step, opting to hang out with friends at the lakes or rivers, taking advantage of their last, long days together. The lack of schoolwork isn’t the adjustment that has been difficult, it’s the impact of social distancing, missing out with friends, and the loss of anticipated traditions and the fanfare around graduation that is so heartbreaking.
I spoke with senior Maya Sheely to get a sense of what it feels like. She’s been busy studying for AP exams and filling out scholarship applications. Maya has accepted admission to the University of Denver and paid her deposit. While she’s disappointed to miss out on her senior trip, graduation parties, and especially the senior prank, she’s accepted the reality of the situation, and understands the importance of social distancing to control the spread of coronavirus.
The University of Denver has notified her that they will be in contact by July as to whether the campus will be open for residency or only online classes in the fall. This prospect makes her nervous. Maya’s ready to move on, move out, and move in. She wants to attend orientation, move into the dorms, and the idea of online classes doesn’t sound very enticing. Others faced with the same dilemma, like my nephew, have made contingency plans for a gap year, working and traveling, instead of taking online classes.
Liberty Bell’s seniors are grappling with a range of emotions as the future is uncertain. According to Spellman, while many seniors like Maya are feeling secure with decisions made and plans in place, some seniors were pulled from school as those decisions were still in the making and they need continued advising and support. And some are dealing with a lot of stress. “I have had seniors in tears on the phone,” Spellman noted. She’s spending time driving to seniors’ houses, dropping off financial aid forms, scholarship forms, and getting in touch as frequently as possible to keep kids motivated and positive.
Graduation plans are still in the making, though it won’t be graduation as we know it. The district sent out a survey asking families for ideas and desires to formalize a plan. Some districts are opting for virtual graduations, but that’s not ideal for Liberty Bell. One idea is an outdoor ceremony at the front entrance of the school, with families only. Each graduate might get an allotted time to receive a diploma while onlookers can watch from their vehicles, followed by a parade. Perhaps KTRT will broadcast speeches over local radio.
In keeping with tradition, senior gift bags filled with local crafts, goods, and gifts will still be distributed. Adam Kaufman’s yearbook club is working remotely to produce the yearbook and each senior will get one for free, courtesy of the district. Missing the awards ceremony that typically happens prior to graduation is a letdown for many. To honor our seniors, the district will be highlighting seniors on a weekly basis via social media and the district’s website, so keep looking online as they showcase their seniors in upcoming days.