After Lynnwood High School senior Isabella Shields first heard she and her classmates would not be returning to school to complete their senior year, she still hoped she would be able to walk across the stage at her graduation. When she learned that the state-issued stay-at-home order would be extended to May, she said she began to cry.
“I’ve always wanted to walk,” she said. “It’s been a dream for me my whole life.”
Now, with Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stat Home, Stay Healthy” order extended to May 31, Shields said that even if there was a graduation ceremony, her grandfather would not be able to leave his house to attend.
With the 2019-20 school year cut short by the coronavirus outbreak, high school seniors will be missing out on graduation, prom, their last sports season and other rites of passage.
When the Edmonds School District district announced in March schools would be closing in response to coronavirus, most students expected a few weeks break from studying. Then a few weeks became the rest of the school year and many seniors had to deal with the reality that traditional senior-year celebrations and milestones might not occur.
“A lot of us were really looking forward to this and to have it stripped away has been really rough,” said Mountlake Terrace High School senior Nolan DeGarlais.
In addition to prom and graduation, many high schools have their own rites of passage that highlight graduating seniors. At Mountlake Terrace, seniors are recognized at the school’s last spirit assembly with a slideshow of the students during their years in school, and then underclassmen ceremonially move up to their next grade by taking their designated place in the school’s gym.
The school closures have also taken a toll on those who participate in activities – from athletics to music to drama — outside the school day. Mountlake Terrace High School senior Jenna Maxfield has been an athlete at the school for the four years. Maxfield, who plays softball, said not being able to finish out the season has been a struggle for her and the other seniors on the school’s softball team.
“We have six seniors on our team and all of us are losing the opportunity to really shine for our senior year,” she said.
Athletes are not the only ones who are disappointed at the sudden end to in-person schooling. Edmonds-Woodway High School senior EJ Brannan is a drummer for the school’s Jazz I band, which performs at spring award ceremonies and concerts that have been canceled.
Typically, the band has a senior dinner at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle and seniors are recognized during the band’ spring concert with awards for their work throughout their time in high school. The band was also scheduled to play during the Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. All of those events have been canceled due to COVID-19.
“This has personally hit me really hard by not being able to do the senior rites of passage as a musician,” he said.
Shortly after the district announced students would be finishing the school year remotely, district staff worked to ensure each student had tools — like Chromebooks and mobile hotspots — to continue their education. Similarly, student musicians have found ways to practice remotely. Edmonds-Woodway senior Dominic Nye — who performs in the school’s Jazz I band — has been practicing with his fellow band members by using video conferencing, like Zoom.
“I didn’t expect it to work as well as it has,” he said. “We can’t do full-on lessons as per usual, but we’ve still been able to talk with our teachers to figure out what we can keep doing to keep up with school from home.”
However, Nye said that practicing remotely has its downsides. For instance, it doesn’t allow for a lot of spontaneity, and creating new sounds involves layering separate recordings from each band member.
“It doesn’t sound the same as live,” he said.
Mountlake Terrace High School’s Jazz I band was one of 18 finalist schools selected to compete in its 25th Annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival in New York City. This would have been the ninth time the school’s top jazz band competed in the competition. However, the event — scheduled for this week — has been canceled.
The band last competed in 2018 and band director Darin Faul said students are disappointed they won’t be able to showcase their talent at this year’s competition.
“Getting in (the competition) is a major accomplishment and to not be able to attend makes us all sad for the missed opportunities,” he said.
In addition to being unable to perform, Faul said the cancellation means other missed opportunities the trip offers — like potential networking and relationships with students from other schools and sight-seeing in New York City.
“I would say that generally, they are trying to stay positive as much as possible,” he said. “This pandemic is a lot for all of us to process and that is no less true for my students. They are doing the best they can.”
The school closures also meant an early curtain call for seniors in Meadowdale High School’s drama program. Among them was Audrey Davies, who said she was disappointed she wasn’t able to make her musical debut in the program’s spring production of “Cinderella.”
“It was going to be my first and last musical at Meadowdale, and now I don’t really get to perform,” she said.
Davies said spring is a significant time for the drama department. The students were also a week away from attending the Washington State Thespian Festival, where they participate in workshops, meet students from other drama programs and can audition for college scholarship programs.
“We lost a lot of college opportunities for our drama students, which is very unfortunate for them,” she said.
Outside of drama, Davies mentioned the disappointment of not being able to attend the senior send-off assembly — where seniors meet on the school’s football field one last time before their last day of school.
“That was one thing I was really looking forward to,” she said.
Not all seniors have plans to continue their education by attending college. For those students, schools have college and career counselors to help them find jobs after high school. At Scriber Lake High School, senior Gustavo Farias said his counselor — paraeducator Christopher Collings — has continued to work with him on his post-graduation plans.
“He’ll sit down with you and help you fill out a resume or find jobs,” he said.
After graduation, Farias said he plans to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and drive semi-trucks. But for now, he has a lot of responsibility at home. In addition to studying on his own, Farias said he is responsible for making sure his four younger siblings do their assignments while their parents work.
“Whenever my parents are at work I’m kind of the parent for my siblings,” he said.
In addition to school-related closures and cancellations, students have had to cancel other plans for senior year. Scriber Lake senior Sydni Hillman said she and her friends planned to attend an anime convention in Seattle during spring break before the convention was canceled.
“We were planning on going for the three days (the convention) was going on as our last big thing before everyone moved across the country to their colleges,” she said.
For students in the Running Start program — which allows high school juniors and seniors to take college courses for credit — studying remotely is typical for many students. Prior to joining Running Start, Edmonds Heights K-12 senior Katie Schnautz said she was used to remote learning because her school incorporates homeschooling into each student’s curriculum.
With students encouraged to follow the stay-at-home order, Schnautz said she has been unable to socialize with her classmates. At Edmonds Heights — where graduating class sizes are small and some students spend all 13 years at the school — Schnautz said it’s particularly hard for her classmates.
“We’ve all known each other mostly since second grade, which may not be the case for everyone in (other) public high schools,” she said. “We’ve all grown up beside each other and suddenly the ending seems off.”
Some students, however, view the school closures differently. Lynnwood High School senior Isabella Sessions is also in Running Start and said she has been detached from school activities for the last couple of years. After attending prom twice before reaching senior year, Session is not feeling as sentimental.
“For me I don’t feel like I’m missing out on those activities because I feel like I’ve already done a little bit of it,” she said. “Compared to other students, I think I’m not as heartbroken.”
However, Sessions said one event she is disappointed she won’t be attending with her classmates is graduation.
The district announced this week that instead of in-person graduations, each high school is planning to hold “high-quality” virtual graduations for seniors in June. The virtual ceremonies will be livestreamed on the date and time that the original in-person ceremony was scheduled. Diplomas will be sent in the mail to students who meet graduation requirements, said district spokesperson Harmony Weinberg.
“We are heartbroken for our seniors who aren’t getting to experience the traditional end-of-the-year events and celebrations,” she said. “However, we are so impressed with the determination of our seniors to make it to the finish line…And while we likely won’t be celebrating them in the traditional ways, the district is committed to honoring them.”
–By Cody Sexton