High school seniors across Polk County coping with cancellation of prom, Grad Bash, commencement ceremonies and the list goes on for what the Class of 2020 will miss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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LAKELAND — The high school graduating Class of 2020 will be known for not having a prom, missing out on Grad Bash at Universal Studios, a canceled senior breakfast to announce superlatives, getting their Silver Garland achievement awards and checks merely mailed to them, and — quite possibly — missing their official graduation ceremony.
Almost all the traditional rites of passage are now wiped from the slate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You know it does hurt,” Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said recently. “That part is really sad for me for this group of seniors and so we’re looking at what can we do for, at least, graduations. We’re having that conversation right now with our principals and with some of our venues where we host graduations.”
There was some good news — current seniors do not have to pass state-mandated math and English language art tests in order to graduate.
To show their support, many people on social media are changing their profile pictures to their senior class picture.
While graduation hasn’t been officially canceled or postponed, Byrd is asking all seniors to fill out an online survey to see what their preferences are: Do they want a delayed ceremony put off until June or July, their diploma simply mailed to them, an online ceremony or a drive-thru ceremony in which they would remain in their cars and be handed their diploma?
On Friday, Lake Gibson High School seniors Mackenzie Dow, 17, Marlana Yarbrough, 18, and Sydney Hamilton, 17, put on their prom dresses for pictures for The Ledger — keeping their distance. Their dance had been scheduled for April 4 and all three girls spent at least $250 on their dresses.
“This is not fun,” Hamilton said before the photo shoot. “Not only was the dress so expensive, but the fact that it was one of the last things to do. This was one of the last high school things that you do. After that it becomes more real. And it was one last thing with my friends where we all get together. And obviously, that isn’t happening anymore.”
Hamilton’s immediate plans are on hold and her summer work plans have been derailed. She is in the certified nursing assistant certification program at LGHS, but the test for the certification has now been delayed. She had planned on getting a job at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center as a CNA to earn money to pay for college classes to earn her nursing diploma.
“We’re missing the tiny stuff, too,” she added. “I know it’s not a big thing — I was looking forward to getting my graduation announcements, getting my cap and gown. Like, I don’t even know how I’m getting my cap and gown.”
Hamilton said she spends half her days on Facetime with friends to talk about homework and just to chat.
“These are people I’m used to seeing every day,” she said.
Teron Boykins, 17, another Lake Gibson senior, had a date lined up with his girlfriend for prom. He said he spends a lot of time on Facetime with her now and she comes to see him at his job at Winn-Dixie.
“It’s a bummer because I missed out on my college visits and prom and the rest of my track season,” Boykins said. “I was looking forward to graduation, too. They’re going to find a way to work around it, but they might not be able to do it the old-fashioned way.”
He is planning on going to either Polk State College or Webber University in the fall, possibly to study business.
Yarbrough said this experience will definitely make the Class of 2020 unique.
“I think that it’ll make our class different from the rest — the other classes they got so much more,” Yarbrough said. “We went all year to get the rewards and now we don’t get any of the rewards, we just got the work.”
Throughout each day, Yarbrough stays home with her father, who is immunocompromised. She said in addition to school work — all of which is homework now — she and her family have been doing lots of home improvement projects.
“I am so tired of painting,” she said, smiling.
Yarbrough is hoping to become a kindergarten or preschool teacher and had been enjoying teaching a kindergarten class every Tuesday and Thursday at Churchwell Elementary School.
“They’re so open-minded,” she said about her students. “And I loved that — that was my favorite part. I’ve been working on making a portfolio when I have to go out in the real world; I just love making lesson plans and stuff for my future.”
Dow said if prom isn’t rescheduled, she and her friends will get together over the summer to wear their fancy dresses and have a nice time together so their parents can take pictures and they can have that one special evening.
As for now, she said she’s thankful for everything their teachers are doing for them with online classes.
“I appreciate them being so patient through all of this,” Dow said. “Like Google classroom is being super slow and some kids are saying they can’t access it. They’re being super patient and communicating throughout all of this and helping however they can.”
All of the seniors said that if graduation is canceled in May, they would prefer to have a real ceremony at a later date.
“So maybe they’ll have it sometime in the summer after all this craziness is done,” Dow said.
Several of them said there is one good thing that has come from this: They are enjoying spending time with their family.
“We’re cooking a lot more together,” Hamilton said. “(We) cook breakfast together. We didn’t have that before.”
Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.
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