Graduating high school seniors missing milestones during pandemic

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March calendar showing plans for prom dress shopping. Courtesy Photo from Emily VanDam.
March calendar showing plans for prom dress shopping. Courtesy Photo from Emily VanDam.

High school seniors throughout the country aren’t celebrating long-waited for milestones this spring. Traditional events such as prom, senior trips, and graduation have been canceled due to COVID-19. 

Prom, a coming-of-age staple of high school in America, is one of the most pressing concerns for today’s graduating class – and it won’t be happening for members of the Class of 2020.

Venture Academy student Emily VanDam, 18, had been looking forward to her senior prom. 

The theme would have been “The Roaring 20s.” 

VanDam and her mother planned a day to shop for dresses, but had to cancel due to social distancing. VanDam and her friend “had been talking about what [they] wanted to do as far as pictures and dinner and stuff but … never came to a decision. now we are tying [sic] to figure something else to do once everything is all over,” she told The Collegian.

On top of it all, VanDam also wasn’t able to take senior pictures. She had planned for an April shoot with the spring flowers.

Sarah Margaron, 17, who also attends Venture Academy, was nearly ready for her senior prom.

“I was literally about to buy a dress – I had my card out and everything. I was taking one of my guy friends who hadn’t gone the year before and was super pumped about going,” she said.

Jacob Foster, 17, a senior at Lincoln High School said he’d already planned his outfit and date for prom. 

After prom, usually comes senior trips. 

Venture Academy had planned two trips for their senior class of 2020. The first was to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, followed by a bonfire. The class had already assigned students to bring food and supplies for the trip.

A “grad bash” at Universal Studios was to follow, according to VanDam. She placed a $200 down payment for this at the beginning of the school year. 

“They still haven’t said anything about getting the money back to us. They just said further payments were being put on hold,” said VanDam.

According to Margaron, grad bash hasn’t been canceled yet.

Lincoln High School planned on attending Disneyland’s Grad Nite, where schools from across the state come together for a night at the park to celebrate the graduating class. Foster heard from classes before him about the mix of schools. 

All of the events typically culminate into a procession to “Pomp & Circumstance.” Not this year.

With many schools canceling graduation ceremonies, students have expressed frustration over social media. Foster said many of his friends are doing this.

VanDam said the possibility of not having a graduation ceremony is the hardest part for her and her family.

Her father called crying at the thought of missing the milestone. His side of the family is in Michigan, so flying was an essential part of the celebration plans. 

VanDam wanted to show her family around her city and state. A graduation party in Michigan was also being planned. Even with everything “up in the air,” she remains positive they will celebrate some way. 

“I just want to walk across the stage honestly,” said Margaron.

Foster had a similar thought and said, “walking is a huge part. I feel like most seniors have been trying hard to get to this moment.”

The class of 2020 will have to transition without celebration.

Foster plans on attending Delta College in fall to study nursing, then transfer to a university. If the pandemic continues into the fall, his biggest worry is online classes. He said they won’t give him the social skills he hopes to learn in college. 

Veronica Bautista, Foster’s mother, said Lincoln High was “definitely not prepared” to send out online work for their students. She’s mainly worried about unfinished school work and canceled activities for her senior. 

“If [the students] finish their work, the district should reschedule the senior events in the summer,” she said. 

Bautista is disappointed for this year’s graduating class. She believes senior year is all about relishing the relationships with peers. 

In Foster’s case, he had been with his same class since kindergarten, so senior year should have been what they “envision[ed] themselves doing.” She remembered how the last days of senior year are all about “just hanging out in the parking lot.”

Both Venture Academy and Lincoln High School are finishing out the year online, a route recommended by California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on March 31.

Edits for clarification added on Sat. April 4.