Left: Seniors and friends sit on top of one of many cars gathered Thursday night to watch a Heritage Academy graduation video shown on an outdoor screen at the First Baptist Church Ministry and Activity Center in Columbus. Right: Columbus High School senior Isaiah Hunter receives his diploma from Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent Cherie Labat as CHS Principal Craig Chapman, at left, calls his name. Socially-distanced students were filmed crossing the stage May 4, for a graduation video to broadcast on WCBI May 23. Photo by: Courtesy photos
May 16, 2020 9:58:23 PM
Senior year. It's the brass ring, the blue ribbon, the tape to triumphantly run through at the long race's end.
The excited Class of 2020 began this school year anticipating final classes, sports seasons, proms, senior parties and the ultimate, graduation. What they couldn't have envisioned is the global pandemic that, in the final months, derailed so much of it. Major milestones that defined senior year for most of us have fallen by the wayside for these seniors. But this class has weathered a challenge graduates before them never faced. Along with their schools -- which are finding innovative ways to provide some form of ceremony in an unceremonious time -- we celebrate them. Virtual graduations, drive-up diploma presentations and observances postponed until summer are a few ways Golden Triangle seniors are being honored. National figures from former presidents to NFL legends have recorded speeches for the Class of 2020 for broadcast and online. It's an indication that the country, as a whole, recognizes how different this class has it.
Today is National Graduation Day in America. Several teens from area schools share some thoughts about this unusual end to their senior experience.
Class of 2020, you have persevered together through something you will never forget. You are resilient. You will carry lessons from this with you for the rest of your lives as you learn to be leaders in college, in business, in education, in medicine, in the military, wherever your paths take you. You are strong. Don't forget it. Congratulations!
"When I first realized I would not be going back to school, I was in denial. I was in denial that I would not get to experience those last senior events and memories like I was supposed to. The most challenging part has been not getting to say all my goodbyes. I did not have a senior prom or traditional graduation, but Heritage Academy still made me feel like I received all the recognition every senior in the past has had, and more.
Over this quarantine, I have learned to not wish my time away. I have learned that I need to stay in the moment, and that spending quality time with my friends and family is priceless.
This quarantine has made me want to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things that in the past I would have said no to. Overall, my perspective on life has changed, and it makes me want to do things different in the future."
Sydney Adair, 18, Heritage Academy
Daughter of Aubrey and Cindy Adair
"The COVID-19 pandemic that swept the nation has affected life as we know it. As a graduating senior, the nationwide crisis put a halt to the final senior festivities my classmates and I were looking forward to. With my final golf season at Caledonia just beginning, I was devastated to hear we would not be returning to school. Aside from missing golf, I felt for our other spring sports, especially baseball and softball. I've enjoyed being able to support them from the stands through the years. With a large number of senior starters, many felt both teams had a strong chance of success. It was upsetting to know we would also miss out on awards day, graduation and the sports banquet, events I always looked forward to.
Though I miss the camaraderie and the social aspect of being at school, I know this is just one test of adversity we will face along life's journey. Even if we cannot see it now, I trust that God has a plan in all of this. We will emerge stronger together and will always have an interesting story to tell of our senior year."
Davis Pool, 18, Caledonia High School
Son of Jason and Allison Pool
"The virus has taken a lot of important memories a high school senior has the opportunity to experience. I missed my senior prom. I missed my class night. I missed my traditional graduation. Through all the things I've missed during this virus, surprisingly there are some good things that came out of it. It made me and fellow classmates grow closer, and grow and unite and work together. It was a lot to hold in, knowing all the things that were taken from us, but we will get through.
What I missed the most is going to see some of the teachers that motivated us to keep pushing and finish strong. I also missed the different opportunities I had to get into in high school."
Isaiah Hunter, 19, Columbus High School
Son of Kelly Hunter
"I've missed out on my senior prom, senior week and, most importantly, seeing my classmates and close friends one last time.
It's definitely been a new challenge with learning school material online. Online classes created an amount of discipline I never thought I needed to make sure I complete all of my assignments. Also, being on time and making sure I wake up for Zoom meetings was something new as well.
Being away from my friends was one of the hardest things I had to adjust to, and not being able to create more memories with them during this time was something I definitely miss.
The highlight of my quarantine period is the bond I've created with my family. We've grown much closer together and become stronger with our love and affection towards each other. What I take away from this experience is live life to the fullest and always tell the people you care about the most that you love them."
Joshua Aka, 18, Starkville High School
Son of James and Jackie Harris
"When I left my school before Spring Break, I never imagined I wouldn't return there as a student again. Senior year was a time that I had been looking forward to all my life, and to have so many exciting things get canceled due to COVID-19 has definitely been disappointing. While the circumstances we are facing today are not good, I'm confident that the Lord is using them for good. I believe that the Class of 2020 was chosen for such a time as this, and I have seen so many beautiful blessings in the midst of this tough time. I've been given special time with my family before I head off to college. I've learned to cherish every moment and not take anything for granted. Most importantly, I've learned what it truly means for Christ to be enough and for Him to be my ultimate source of joy and strength. Thank you all so much for the love and support you have shown."
Carrington Davis, 17, New Hope High School
Daughter of Todd and Angela Davis
"When I first got the text that school was extending spring break another week due to COVID-19, I was very excited. I was glad to have an extra week out of school, but I didn't realize at the time that I wouldn't be going back to school this year. Finding out that the rest of the school year was online and graduations and proms were canceled or postponed was horrible news to me. I had been looking forward to walking across the stage this year to get my high school diploma at GTECHS, as well as my associate degree at EMCC.
I am still so thankful for our GTECHS family, especially all the staff who have helped make our graduation special. This quarantine has taught me to never take the little moments in life for granted. Although we do not get a traditional senior year or graduation, it is definitely one that every 2020 senior class will remember forever."
Kaylin Belue (of Caledonia), 18, Golden Triangle Early College High School
Daughter of Michael and Lacy Belue
"And in the blink of an eye, my senior year and plans were altered due to the deadly coronavirus, better known as COVID-19. It's so strange not being able to attend school physically. Who would've ever thought this would happen? I'm a bit disappointed I missed my senior prom, but I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to attend my junior year.
This experience has definitely taught me to appreciate the small things and not take anything for granted. The Class of 2020 missed out on so much this year that we were looking forward to, for instance "Senior Skip Day" -- but then again, I guess we are the champions of "Senior Skip Day."
I've always imagined graduating high school surrounded by friends and family, so I'm so excited that, as of now, I'll be graduating June 23, just two weeks shy of leaving for college at Jones, unless something changes. There's just so much uncertainty due to the pandemic."
Jherquaveus Sanders, 18, West Lowndes High School
Son of Priscilla Sanders
"I absolutely never expected my senior year to end up quite like this. When I came back from spring break, I know my friends and I were not understanding the full effect that would be taking place; we just thought, Spring Break Part 2! As school kept being pushed back, and then my school started the distance learning program, it all became a bit more real.
I have taken up more on my hobbies of baking, doing puzzles with my family and online shopping. However, I miss getting to see my friends all the time and getting to celebrate my final few months as a senior.
Something I always knew was to cherish the little things, but with everything that's happened, it's really hit me. I had my last day at Starkville Academy, and I didn't even know it.
For now, I have learned that I can overcome adversity, and, with the technology we have today, the best a person can do is to keep spreading joy."
Grace Fant, 17, Starkville Academy
Daughter of Robin and Dana Fant
"The hardest thing about being out of school is missing interaction with my friends. I miss hanging out with them, laughing and just talking about nothing.
Throughout this quarantine, I have learned to be creating, to try new things. I've learned to cook and master a lot of meals. I've learned to be innovative in my workouts by using a workout app to help me stay fit. I've also learned, and will continue to learn, to be grateful that God has protected me and my family from COVID-19. Most of all, I am so very thankful for the time I get to spend with my family.
The one thing that has kept me positive about school is the thought of the college experience. I'm excited to start my life in college and meet new people.
One optimistic thing I can take from this experience is that God is in control, and there is a lesson in everything that we go through (Romans 8:28)."
Kylie Emerson, 18, Columbus Christian Academy
Daughter of Jeff and Tonsha Emerson
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.