Class of 2020 missing many rites of passage


Schools scrambling for best way to honor grads

File image (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — There won’t be a prom, a final spring sports season or a traditional commencement for the Class of 2020, and seniors are mourning the abrupt end of their high school careers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s so sad. When it was our last day of school, we didn’t even know it was our last day of school,” Barlow High School senior Jordana Young said. 

Young said it’s not just the big things, but the little ones she’s missing.

“I miss people yelling my name, parking next to my friends in the parking lot, teasing my teachers. I’m never going to walk those halls as a Barlow student again. It makes me cry. We won’t get to say goodbye to each other,” Young said. 

Still, the seniors all agreed that their disappointments pale in comparison to the widespread suffering caused by the epidemic.

“It was definitely the right call to call off school,” said Mackenzie Carnes, a Lincoln High School student. “It’s certainly not a big consequence of this pandemic.” 

Students were sent home for an extended spring break in March. On March 17, Gov. Kate Brown lengthened the school closure to April 28. Finally, on April 8, the governor closed schools for the remainder of the academic year due to the COVID-19 emergency. 

“It’s very unfortunate and very depressing. There is a lot I was looking forward to. It sucks not to say that last goodbye,” said Tyler Tzeo, a senior at Centennial High School. 

Although most schools have not officially canceled the traditional June commencement ceremonies, it seems inevitable — and schools are trying to figure the best way to honor this year’s grads. 

Some are considering postponing commencement until late summer, to take place before college-bound kids take off for their next step. Others are pondering some sort of virtual celebration. Car parades have been suggested. 

“I think we should postpone it,” said Centennial’s Tzeo. “It’s a very big moment in our lives. We should be able to celebrate it like everyone else.” 

Some seniors also said they’ll miss the traditional all-night party that is part of the graduation event. 

Seniors and schools are making the best of a bad situation. 

Johnny Martinez, senior class president at Portland’s David Douglas High School, has started an Instagram page where senior Scots can post a photo, list their college plans and a quote. 

In honor of the Class of 2020, high schools across the state — including Barlow and Gresham high schools — are joining others across the nation and are lighting up their stadiums every Friday at 20:20 (8:20 p.m.) for 20 minutes through June 4. 

Barlow’s Young and her classmate Evelyn Whipps are perhaps most upset about missing out on Barlow’s spring musical extravaganza, “42nd Street.” Because of construction on the school’s theater, the Barlow thespians did not have a big winter musical this year, either. 

The frothy, upbeat “42nd Street” had been cast and rehearsals started, and Young and Whipps had been perfecting their time steps when the show was summarily canceled. 

“It was my first lead role ever,” Young sighed. 

Whipps, who had landed the plum role of Peggy Sawyer, said “I was very disappointed. I was excited to play that character.” 

Theater kids also are missing the state and national thespian festivals. 

“That’s a hard pill to swallow,” Whipps said. “There are some amazing memories I won’t get to have this year.”   

Proms across the area also have been scrubbed. 

“That was really devastating. I never thought I’d get asked and my friend had a whole extravagant plan to ask me. A lot of people had already bought their dresses,” Barlow’s Young said. 

Yearbook staffs are wrapping things up, but students probably won’t get a chance to sign each other’s books and create that keepsake they’ll have for decades. 

Carnes, an editor of Lincoln’s yearbook, said they’ve left some pages blank for students to fill in with their own memories of the strange end to the 2020 school year. They are unsure of how they will distribute the books and are discouraging the traditional signing.

“We don’t want to encourage signing because we don’t want people gathering together,” she said. 

And each school has unique traditions that that won’t happen this year. 

Jose Luis Pasaye, from Reynolds High School, will miss “Raider Rumble Day” which always features a carnival ride, food vendors, games and more. 

Pasaye also attends the charter Center for Advanced Learning in Gresham and said he’ll miss that school’s grad party and “saying ‘thank you’s and goodbyes’ to all my teachers and friends for making my CAL experience a great one.” 

David Douglas’ Martinez is disappointed that students won’t have their international week, celebrating the diversity of the state’s largest high school. 

Martinez particularly enjoys the day when students cook and sell food representing their cultures from around the world. 

Most seniors will still graduate, even without hearing “Pomp and Circumstance.” Seniors with passing grades in their classes when schools were closed will pass the class and, if they have sufficient credits, will graduate. These seniors are not required to participate in the distance learning mandated for all other students. Seniors short of credits will have until Aug. 30 to earn enough credits for graduation, and schools are especially targeting these teens for extra help. 

Despite the disappointing end to their senior year, some members of the Class of 2020 said they are looking forward to their next adventure. Barlow’s Young is headed to the University of Oregon in the fall. Martinez is off to Western Oregon University and wants to be a PE teacher, hopefully at David Douglas. Carnes is pondering pre-med at either University of Oregon or University of Rochester. 

Barlow’s Young said that, despite the heartbreak of missing so many highlights of her final year of school, she’s sanguine. “It’s better to stay healthy and safe and be glad that everyone is safe. But, it is sad.” 

Martinez agrees. “There are priorities here. People are dying … we have to understand our priorities in times like these.”

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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