Like dominos falling in succession, so were the milestone events for Senior Year — first delayed, then possible, then over. Spring sports, playoff games, musicals, concerts, prom, graduation.
For the class of 2020, every day brought another door slamming shut. COVID-19 and the statewide shutdown made sure of that.
Fulton County Schools’ decision to host “senior celebrations” in lieu of traditional graduation was the biggest blow to many seniors who held onto hope the ban on gatherings would lift by late May.
“Throughout high school, all the stress and pressure is [endured] with one goal in mind: graduation,” said Milton High senior Regan Williams. “For me, I couldn’t wait for graduation, it was a sign that everything I worked for was worth it.”
She said she understands in the wide-angle view of life, the “hole in her heart” from a canceled graduation ceremony pales in comparison to what many are enduring.
“As seniors, we know our ‘perfect senior year’ is not the priority — peoples’ lives are being saved by our actions, and that’s what matters,” Williams said. “But for us, this was going to be one of the best times of our lives, our first big milestone. And we were robbed.”
A spokesman for Fulton Schools said the decision to cancel planned graduation ceremonies was necessary. With no indication of how long Gov. Brian Kemp would keep the ban on public gatherings in place, the district had to make a choice.
“Some public health officials are saying it could extend well through the summer,” said District Communications Director Brian Noyes. “So, what date is safe for planning purposes or even considering some type of event?”
Nearly all high schools in North Fulton had planned to hold graduation ceremonies at Ameris (formerly Verizon) Amphitheater in Alpharetta. Noyes said even if the ban was lifted, he questioned if the venues would still be available.
Fulton Schools Superintendent Mike Looney directed principals to plan with their school community for a “modified ceremony” held at the high schools. Events might include a blend of virtual and in-person participation, or an all virtual ceremony.
“The sudden end to all of these major, milestone events has created heartbreak for not just the students, but the parents, teachers and staff who care deeply about them,” Looney said. “We all want to see them get the recognition they deserve.”
Williams is fairly certain she knows what many seniors would like as a send-off to the next chapter in their lives.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but most people I know would rather move graduation to a later date and still have a traditional experience to walk,” Williams said. “This is an experience every class before and every class after will get.”
She said an online or virtual celebration will not be the same.
Cambridge High senior Torie Laney is also hoping for a delayed graduation that would allow the entire Class of 2020 to gather together.
“I’m praying Cambridge will be able to hold a ceremony in the late summer for us because graduation through my computer would be a bummer,” said Laney, who will attend the University of Tennessee.
If a traditional ceremony is not possible, Laney said she and her friends will create their own graduation ceremony. She understands everyone is going through hardships.
“The fact that my senior year has ended has not hit me yet,” Laney said. “It is comforting knowing that everyone around the country is in the same boat.”
Williams knows there is a bright future ahead, as she prepares to enroll at Georgia State University.
“Graduation is all I have left of my senior year,” Williams said. “To lose that on top of everything else would be so devastating.”