About two hours before news broke in mid-March that Oregon’s governor had decided to cancel school for at least six weeks to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, my daughter had asked me if we could shop online for a prom dress. She wanted something pretty, but not too “prom-y,” something she might be able to wear again at college.
Just remembering that excitement brings tears to this mother’s eyes. A couple weeks later, after Oregon and Washington both shutdown school for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, my only child started to realize that — not only was her senior prom now off the table — but so were graduation and her 18th birthday party, which we planned to celebrate with family and friends in early May.
Now she wonders, “Will I even start college on time?”
The devastation caused by the highly contagious and deadly coronavirus has taken an emotional toll on all of us. At the top of that pyramid of sorrow, of course, are the families of those killed by the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus and the health care workers and first responders who are risking their own lives to help save coronavirus victims.
In the middle are our small business owners facing financial ruin if the federal and state governments cannot figure out how to help them survive the very necessary shutdowns; unemployed individuals and families who can no longer afford basic necessities like food; and essential workers who also risk their health to stock our grocery store shelves, keep our city services running and dole out our prescriptions at pharmacies that still allow walk-up customers instead of insisting people take advantage of delivery services or drive-thrus.
No one would equate losing out on prom or even graduation with losing a loved one to a horrifying respiratory disease or risking everything to get people the medical care, medicines and food that sustain them, but when it comes to this pandemic’s emotional toll, it’s safe to say our high school seniors are likely somewhere close to the top of the heap.
As the athletic directors, coaches and athletes highlighted in Post-Record reporter Doug Flanagan’s A1 story in today’s paper noted, the cancellation of these kids’ senior year is stealing memories students carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Regardless of how much they loved or hated high school, few can say they don’t remember those final days of being a K-12 student. Today’s seniors are missing out on the pomp and circumstance that cushions the lingering fear of leaving childhood behind and intensifies the joy of stepping into a new adult life.
For parents who may have already been struggling with this stage of parenting (weren’t they just coming home from their first day of kindergarten last month?), facing the end of their child’s school years without any sort of public celebration to help them transition can be crushing. In my mind, I know it’s not really a big deal in the scheme of things. But, in my heart, I’m crying for these very real losses. And I know I’m not alone.
The Camas and Washougal school districts are well-equipped to figure out alternative celebrations for the class of 2020. Cheering these kids on as they make their way into adulthood might not look like we’re used to. There likely will be no gathering in large groups until scientists have figured out how to either treat COVID-19 or have developed and distributed a strong vaccine. According to the world’s health experts, those things may not happen until late 2021 or even 2022.
But if there’s one thing humans have proven during this crisis, it is that we are all more resilient than we may have imagined. We’ve adapted to new, strange routines in a matter of weeks, so why can’t we all figure out an innovative way of celebrating our high school seniors?
Perhaps we can follow the lead of other school districts that are planning “drive-by graduations,” where seniors wear their cap and gowns and drive with their immediate family members in a sort of parade that winds through the city. Residents and businesses could post signs of encouragement in their windows and police or firefighters could lead the parade with lights blazing.
Or maybe we go virtual along with seemingly every other aspect of life during COVID-19 and create an online space where seniors can dress up and see each other and say goodbye to the teachers, principals, coaches and school counselors who have helped guide them this far in life.
We look forward to seeing what Camas and Washougal school district leaders come up with to honor local high school seniors and hope their alternative plans will be spectacular enough to make up for the class of 2020’s lost memories.
We’re sure community members, seniors and families have already come up with some creative ideas. Want to share those visions for alternative graduation celebrations with Post-Record readers? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and type “2020 Graduation” in the subject line by 5 p.m. Friday, May 8, for possible publication in our May 14 issue.
~ Kelly Moyer, managing editor