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The 'Quaran-Teens:' The Class of 2020 Copes With COVID-19

young woman with laptop
Kevin Lavery
/
WKAR-MSU
Megan Lavery is a senior at Okemos High School. She's waiting alongside thousands of her peers in mid-Michigan for word about her commencement ceremony.

The coronavirus pandemic has the whole world living in limbo.  Few people feel that sensation more acutely than high school seniors.  With their once promised rites of passage on hold, members of the Class of 2020 search in isolation for a meaningful way to mark the end of their K-12 experience.

 

Self-quarantine may be sidelining my field reporting a bit these days.  But finding a teen with something to say about what it’s like to be a senior in 2020 wasn’t too hard.

 

My daughter Megan is finishing up her final year at Okemos High School.  Well, she’s finishing at home.  Let’s just say she’ll be graduating from Okemos High School.

 

Somehow.  Eventually. 

 

“Graduation being cancelled is definitely the most heartbreaking one,” Megan says.  Prom, I could’ve handled.  But graduation…it’s a one-time thing, and I feel like that was taken from me.”      

 

As her dad, I feel for her.  As a reporter, I feel for everyone I’ve spoken to who’s either been forced to make the hard decision to cancel all those special capstone events these kids have earned…or helplessly sit by and watch them fade away.

 

Jody McKean is one of those decision makers.

 

“Obviously we’d like to do something in person,” he says.  “I just don’t see that happening.”

 

McKean is the principal at DeWitt High School.  His building is physically closed until at least June 30.  So, McKean hopes to schedule events like awards and scholarship ceremonies for the summer months.

 

"So, let's just say that if some things are lifted June 30, there's going to be a mad dash and scramble in trying to fit in all these different activities in the months of July and August before the start of school," McKean says.  "And who's to say that even the start of school is even going to be back to normal, per se?"

 

Until then, McKean says DeWitt High is working with WILX-TV in Lansing to broadcast a virtual senior celebration on June 6.  Commencement plans are still in the works.

 

Many teachers and administrators are turning to their students for suggestions about how to bring their year to a close. 

 

Meanwhile, seniors are turning to each other to parley their shared sense of loss.

 

Brianna Thiel is the senior class president at Lansing Eastern.

 

“At first, it was grief,” Thiel admits.  “I was honestly grieving with my whole class.  But I just learned that I have to be the strong one in all of this because they’re all looking to me for support.  I just don’t want them to feel like they have nobody fighting for them in all of this.”  

 

Brianna is a bridge between her peers and the staff at Eastern.  She’s leading her class through email and on Facebook, where she’s helped curate a series of profiles called “Senior Spotlights.” 

 

She’s still holding out hope for an in-person prom…but admittedly with low expectations.

 

Then, there’s the question of life after graduation.  Every parent – this one included – wants their child to step into the world with confidence.  But colleges and universities are struggling with how and when to re-open their doors. 

 

Even if that happened tomorrow, the psychological blow of the pandemic has  Megan Lavery wondering when she should take her finger off the pause button.

 

"It's going to be a bit harder for me to be able to let get as soon as I thought I'd be able to," she says.  I've definitely been thinking about pushing it back a semester or finding a better time when I feel like I’m more ready.  But, being at home 24-7 has not necessarily helped me leave the nest.”          

 

Still, the quarantine continues, leaving seniors with ample time for contemplation.

 

I know they’re upset.  I can see it in Megan’s eyes.  As connected as most are through social media, they’ve suddenly lost the face to face with their friends that’s such a vital part of the school atmosphere.  They want their families sitting in that packed auditorium as they walk across that stage.

 

Nicole Coss understands those feelings.  She’s a counselor at East Lansing High School…and her own daughter is a senior, too. 

 

“You know, everybody is struggling right now, and I think it’s OK to tell them, hey…if you’re struggling, so am I,” says Coss.  “There’s no right or wrong way to feel about this situation that we’re in.”          

Quarantine has made Brianna Thiel view her once routine rituals with a new appreciation.

 

“I definitely took all of that for granted, and it really shows me you can’t let the small moments go unnoticed,” she says.           

 

For now, graduation plans across mid-Michigan schools remain on pause.  But teachers, principals and parents want their seniors to know this: The Class of 2020 will have its moment.  We’ve invested too much in them not to celebrate their success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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