No Prom, No Graduation – But The Class Of 2020 Is Still Celebrating The End Of High School

May 13, 2020

If it weren't for COVID-19, many high school seniors would be walking across a stage to receive a diploma this month. They’d also be attending prom and other events to celebrate the end of high school.

Instead, many seniors are having to reflect on their high school experiences alone and make different memories for some of the biggest milestones.

Below, four high school seniors share what it means to have the last semester of senior year shifted to at-home learning and away from friends.

Hudson Humphrey says he was looking at his graduation ceremony as a kind of marker into a new phase of young adulthood.
Credit Michael Minasi / KUT

Hudson HumphreyMcCallum High School

Without prom, awards ceremonies, senior celebrations and graduation ceremonies, the whole K-12 school experience can feel unfinished.

“It feels important, but I don’t know why,” Hudson said. “My parents did it, I've seen pictures of them, I’ve seen pictures of my grandparents graduating. You see it in movies, you see it in cartoons, and when you don’t get to do it it’s kind of sad.” 

Hudson wasn’t particularly excited about prom, but he was excited to attend his graduation ceremony, kind of as a marker into this new phase of young adulthood. 

“I feel like a cocoon right now that was supposed to turn into a thriving butterfly once I was going to throw off my cap and gown,” he said.

Frances Parra says she's learned not to take school for granted.
Credit Michael Minasi / KUT

Frances ParraAnn Richards School for Young Women Leaders

Frances says Ann Richards has a lot of little traditions to celebrate seniors throughout the year.

In one, "we put up our senior portraits along the wall and we replace the old ones,” she said. “So it’s like a ceremony, and then the whole school walks past it the next day.”

But that didn’t happen before school buildings were closed.

Every year, the entire student body at Ann Richards – sixth through 12 grades – goes on a field trip to the senior graduation. Frances was excited to finally have her own ceremony, after sitting through six others.

Despite not being able to attend these events in person, Frances has been thinking a lot about her school experience.

“It’s been really obvious we take school for granted,” she said. “I hope I made every single moment, like I lived it up to the fullest. I hope that everyone else who has the opportunity to go through high school still – like the seniors next year – I hope everyone makes the most of that.”

Maddy Pollack says LASA is special because everyone knows each other and she probably won't have that experience at a big college.
Credit Michael Minasi / KUT

Maddy PollackLiberal Arts and Science Academy

Maddy said she's been focused on academics during the last four years at LASA, so she was looking forward to a more chill semester.

“At LASA we do this thing called Senior Salute, which is this ceremony for all the seniors," she said. "All the people do funny skits and there are department awards and stuff. So, I was looking forward to that because it’s unique to our school.”

She’s still reflecting on her high school experience and what made it special – even though she won't have a traditional send-off.

“LASA is also about half the size of a bigger high school, so we know everybody, which I think is really cool,” she said. “I feel like I’ll probably never have that again where I’ll know everybody around me, especially going to a big college, so I think that’s been special.”

Chantal Flores-Malagon, whose parents immigrated from Mexico, says she had been excited about wearing a traditional Chiapas dress to prom.
Credit Michael Minasi / KUT

Chantal Flores-Malagon, Crockett High School

Chantal said she was really excited for the end of the school year. As the yearbook editor, she was going to finally see a year’s worth of work come together. She was also excited to debut a prom look she’d been thinking about for years.  

“The prom dress that I had was traditional. It is called a Chiapas dress. It’s just nice, embroidered with just a bunch of flowers,” she said. “I planned on having that dress since the end of my sophomore year, the beginning of my senior year. I wanted to be different, I didn’t want to be wearing that red silk dress that every other girl wears at prom.”

She said she was also excited to celebrate graduation with her family, especially her parents. She said being able to graduate and look out and see her parents dressed up with flowers and balloons would feel really special.

“My parents are immigrants and it’s that classic immigrant story where they come here for a better life and for us to be better and do the things they didn’t get to do,” she said. “So, obviously, it would have hit full circle. It kind of feels like it doesn’t hit full circle because I don’t get that moment.”

But even though she’s grieving what COVID took away, Chantal says she’s aware of all the positive things she’s experienced during high school. 

“I’m not going to look back at like – Oh, senior year got cut short. I’m going to look back at the laughs, the karaoke days, me hanging out with my friends, going off-campus for lunch," she said. "I’m not going to look back at the time that got taken away.”

Got a tip? Email Claire McInerny at claire@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

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