Iola High School senior Trevelle Means was looking forward to walking across the stage to accept his high school diploma.
Graduation is one of the key moments in the shift from childhood to adulthood. For Trevelle, that moment would symbolize not just the successful completion of 13 years of education. It would mean triumph over a difficult childhood.
“Growing up wasn’t easy for me. I was adopted when I was 9 due to lots of things I don’t always talk about,” he said. “Graduating for me was about overcoming all the obstacles I’ve faced in my life and coming out on top after everything I’ve been through.”
But with Kansas school buildings shuttered for the rest of the year and mass gatherings prohibited as the world tries to slow the spread of a deadly coronavirus, Trevelle and other high school seniors across Kansas may not get that moment.
It’s difficult to accept, said those who recently spoke to The Register. They’re still trying to process a new reality that abruptly ends their public school education.
The last day of in-person classes was Friday, March 13, the beginning of spring break. Little did they know their goodbyes to friends and teachers would be for the rest of the school year.
But that was it.
No tearful end-of-the-year farewells to classmates they never got to know very well and may never see again. No favorite teachers imparting final words of wisdom as they enter a new phase of life.
No spring sports. No state forensics meet.
No school musical or Little Oscars ceremony.
No senior prom.
And no graduation.
It’s possible districts will find some way to recognize the achievements of the Class of 2020, or that families think of some special way to commemorate the moment.
Education will continue, and seniors will complete the necessary requirements to earn a diploma.
But for now, seniors are left to finish the school year without pomp and circumstance.
THE REALITY of it all is still sinking in for IHS senior Sadrie Overall.
Just before the announcement Tuesday afternoon, Sadrie learned Chanute classes would be moved online for the rest of the year. She talked about the news with members of her senior class who are part of a Snapchat group, and wondered if the same would happen at Iola.
But even with that discussion, she still was shocked when Gov. Laura Kelly announced all in-person classes would be canceled for the rest of the year. Education will continue, but school in the traditional sense won’t.
“It’s so surreal,” she said. “I won’t be able to finish my last season playing softball or go to state forensics. I won’t get to go to prom. I won’t get to walk across the stage in front of all my family and that’s something I’ve been waiting for, for so long.”
The Class of 2020 has been through a lot, Sadrie said.
They’re the “9/11 Babies,” as some call them. Most of them were born around the time of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and grew up with “active shooter drills” amid fears of school shootings. They’re “woke” yet divided politically. Technology is second nature to them and they’ve been using social media most of their lives.
Even at IHS, the Class of 2020 faced its share of divisive issues like the recent decision to end the “Fillies” moniker for girls sports.
“People joke that we were doomed from the start. But I think that just made us strong,” Sadrie said. “I feel like our class gets the short end of the stick because we’re kind of passive. We would rather have people happy than fight for what we want, and a lot of time that results in not getting what we want. But we always got through it, and now we have to get through another thing.”
Some of her classmates are angry, she said. And they’re all sad.
She’s sad, too. But she describes herself as “very faith-based” and has confidence that God has a bigger picture in mind.
“I have faith that even though this feels really bad, something good will come out of this,” she said. “I’ve decided not to let it define me.”
IHS SENIOR Haley Carlin is still processing the fact that high school has ended, without fanfare and goodbyes.
She feels sad for the things she will miss.
She’ll miss not being able to perform in the school musical that everyone practiced so hard for, and band concerts and graduation, of course.
More than that, she’ll miss those who impacted her life in ways she may not recognize or appreciate.
“The saddest part for me is not seeing everyone anymore. I’m not talking about my close friends because I will find a way to talk to them,” she said. “I’m going to miss the people who said ‘hi’ to you in the hallway every day and the teachers I said ‘good morning’ to.”
Like Sadrie, Haley’s faith is helping her through this time. She’s also looking for ways to distract herself by reaching out to others. She and her friends have been giving each other FaceTime tours of their rooms. She bought drinks from Sonic and left them with notes on the porches of her friends.
“It’s crucial that the Class of 2020 stay in touch and get through this trial together,” she said.
ELLA TAYLOR didn’t believe the news when her friends started texting her Tuesday afternoon.
“I knew it was going to happen eventually but I thought we’d be out a couple weeks,” she said. “It happened so fast. When I left school for spring break, I just didn’t think it would be the last time I saw some of my friends.”
She’s especially disappointed with the cancellation of track season. Last year, she competed at the state track competition in three events. She expected to do well in the pole vault competition this year, and the school recently purchased a new pole that she was excited about using.
The last couple of days, she and friends were working on a group project with cardboard cutouts. It sits unfinished.
Classmates had just started talking about what they might do for the traditional “senior prank” and making plans for a picnic after the last day of school.
“Right now, I’m just texting my friends and it still feels like we’re on spring break,” she said. “As the weeks go by, it will really start to kick in.”
She plans to attend Brigham Young University in the fall. She’s worried by reports that say the pandemic could last as long as 18 months. Will she have to delay college as well?
“I’m hoping everything clears up by then, but we just don’t know,” she said.
Still, she’s trying to look for the positives.
“The end of senior year is pretty stressful. So maybe we’ll have less stress and we’ll get to sleep in more.”