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Class Of 2020 Mourns End-Of-Year Celebrations, But Remains Focused On Future

Katherine Perkins/IPR
Linn Mar High School counselors purchased yard signs to recognize all 515 members of their graduating class.

The Iowa high school class of 2020 is experiencing a very different senior year than any class that has come before it. In many cases, prom has already been canceled. Year books will go unsigned. There will be no final performances or competitions. Commencement ceremonies are canceled, postponed or will go virtual. 

During a time when so many people are sick or have died of COVID-19, it may seem trivial to focus on this loss, but for seniors who have spent 13 years of schooling building up to this moment, the loss is real and sad.

In this edition of Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with four high school seniors about what it's like to miss out on the end-of-year traditions at their schools and how they're looking ahead. She also speaks with Justin Daggett, superintendent of Manson Northwest Webster school district about how he's been advising seniors dealing with these losses, and Purvis Williams who founded the "Adopt a Senior Waterloo" Facebook group to honor seniors in his community.

Credit Isha Kalia
Isha Kalia is a senior at Linn Mar High School who plans to attend Stanford University in the fall.

What do you miss most about school?

"It's not even my close friends because I get to Facetime them. I talk to them every day. It's more like the school friends I wouldn't see otherwise. The people I would see in some classes who I would talk to and would make me laugh. Just not seeing them anymore is hard." 

How does it feel to not be able to go back to school to finish the year? 

"I just can't believe that I've walked in my high school for the last time and I'm not going back, like I will never be in Linn Mar again as a student."

"It's just hard because I feel like I didn't get closure. All of the seniors before me have gotten to do their senior ditch day. They walked through the elementary schools in their gowns. They graduated and had a last day, and they have closure. And I feel like we haven't really gotten that closure, we've been sitting in this month of limbo not knowing what's going on."

"I also feel bad because we're all complaining about high school ending and people are dying, and that makes me feel bad. But, I don't know... it's sad."

Credit Tayvon Porter
Tayvon Porter is a senior at Iowa City High School who plans to attend Kirkwood Community College in the fall.

What was your reaction when you heard you wouldn’t be going back to school this year?

"It was really heartbreaking. I cried. I emailed some of my teachers. I really thought we would go back to school and see everybody. It really made me feel bad. I would love to go back to school."

What are you saddest about missing?

"I miss my teachers the most, like Carrie Watson and Stacie Smith. Compared to the other teachers, they showed they wanted more diversity in school. They really cared about black students and checked in more about school and stuff at home. They provided snacks. And they were both open. You could go to them and talk to them about anything."

Did you get to say goodbye?  "Yeah, but if I would’ve known it was the final goodbye it would’ve been different." 

What would you have said? "It would probably be tears mainly. I would’ve told them how much I appreciated them and the support that they gave me. It was the best experience I could’ve had."

Credit Lorinda Groe
Emma Martinson is a senior at Lake Mills High School who plans to attend University of Northern Iowa in the fall.

What's it like to go to school with the same 50 kids for 13 years of school?

"Being in a smaller town, we’re so close knit. We have so much support when something like this goes on. We recently had a car parade for someone… we’re just all so connected, so that makes it nice."

What was your reaction when you heard you wouldn’t be going back to school this year?

"I was at school and with friends [at a rehearsal] when I heard, which was nice. I was heartbroken, but after being quarantined for his long, I figured we wouldn’t be going back. I’m disappointed I won’t be seeing friends at the end of school."

What are you saddest about missing out on from the end of your senior year?

"Our school used to do a senior breakfast with teachers. I’ve been seeing memories on social media from last year’s class. It’s sad I won’t get to do that with my teachers."

Credit Lucky Soda Photography
James Konfrst is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines who plans to attend University of Iowa in the fall.

Have you encountered anyone who’s told you that you shouldn’t be sad, that this isn't a big deal when you look at the big picture?

"Yeah, some people have sort of mentioned that. Like family members, grandparents I guess. And yeah, I mean it’s exciting looking forward to everything else that’s coming up."

What are your plans for the future?

"I'm going to the University of Iowa. I’m really excited. I joined the Facebook group last night, and that got me really excited."

What are you most looking forward to about college?

"I think it will be a good place to find out who I am and what I like to do, meet friends for a lifetime and meet really cool people and have good experiences. And live away from home. I’m looking forward to that, especially after all this."

When you look back on this time what will you remember most?

"It's really hard to tell right now. I try to be positive about it. I’ll never show my kids prom or graduation pictures, but I’m lucky not getting sick. I think I’ll just look back on this and how crazy it was… how much I took for granted, like  going for drives with friends and going to get food. I miss that."

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk