BY HUNTER DONELSON
As I write this story, I have just spent what has been the most important birthday of my life thus far sitting in my bed, on FaceTime with my best friends, “blowing” candles out through a screen on a cake that my friend baked in celebration. Yet none of us were actually able to eat that cake, just admire the taste that we would never get to enjoy. I’ve always looked forward to turning eighteen and throwing a big party with all my friends as I have officially become a legal adult. But this year, COVID-19 stopped all of that before it even started.
COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, was a mere internet meme back in January but rapidly took the world by storm before mid-February even arrived. The coronavirus quickly attacks the respiratory system and is extremely contagious. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that it takes people standing just ‘six feet apart or less’ to contract the virus. It’s most deadly for those in the age range of 60-80+ years old but has now taken more than 300,000 lives worldwide. The scariest part about it? Nearly 25% of people infected by the coronavirus do not show any symptoms of having it while being just as contagious as someone that may be suffering from multiple symptoms. From March 1st to April 1st, coronavirus cases skyrocketed from just over 88,000 to more than 935,000 while deaths also increased by 44,000 over that time.
With all of this happening, life seemed to move forward pretty normally until March 11, 2020, when everything took an exasperating turn. On this day, not only did the World Health Organization declare the coronavirus a global pandemic, but the first professional athlete, Rudy Gobert, tested positive. Within minutes of the report that Gobert had tested positive, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the NBA would go on a hiatus indefinitely. This led to the NHL postponing the rest of their season and the MLB delaying Opening Day of their season, which was scheduled for March 24th. Just a day later, President Donald Trump enforced a 30-day travel ban. And the day after that, Trump declared a national emergency. This led to university campus closings and public school closings all across the United States, including here in the Independence School District.
While pretty much the entire world is shut down, the senior class of 2020 can only ponder what they’ll be missing. “For a while it was hard to have a reaction. Yeah, we were missing time away from school and our friends but we didn’t know how long it would be. Even then, it was still disappointing,” said Kara Amos.
Much like that birthday cake that I could only admire and never taste, this year’s senior class will similarly never get to experience many of the things that make being a senior so special. Whether it’s the possibility of not having graduation or simply missing out on a whole two months of walking the same halls as our best friends for the last time, COVID-19 is affecting us in more ways than one. For three years we’ve thought about the countless senior year memories such as prom, the legacy walk, senior breakfast, the last day of school, taking finals for the last time, and graduation. But now, all but one of these events has vanished quicker than candle flames are extinguished from a birthday wish.
The first slice of students affected by school closing were those of spring sport athletes. Both baseball and girls’ soccer had just finished tryouts and began practicing the week before schools closed. The initial thought of not playing was a sour one that soon turned into reality rather quickly. “All I could really think about was how this was likely mine, and my teammates’, last season to play baseball… possibly ever. It’s not like being an underclassman. For some of us there isn’t going to be a next season,” said senior shortstop Zach Servi.
For the track team, they started preseason back in February and were just beginning to turn the corner on official practices and meets before having their season canceled. At this point, the senior athletes for their respective sports have made their final appearance on what is supposed to be the biggest stage of their athletic career.
On Friday, March 13th, students walked the halls as if it were just another day at school. It was our last full week of school for nearly three weeks with spring break right around the corner as most were just excited to have made it through.
Then the announcement came that Sunday afternoon from Independence School District superintendent, Dale Herl, “There will be no school until we return from spring break on March 30th, at the earliest.” But the feeling that everyone gutted was that it would be extended much longer than that, and it was. Just one day later a new phone call home announced that the school closings would be extended another week, to April 6. After a few days, and a new report that the state of Kansas had canceled public schools for the remainder of the year, another phone call came. This time the cancellation was extended to April 24, an additional three weeks. However, changes continued to happen as the situation worsened. On April 9, Missouri Governor Mike Parson held a press conference announcing that all Missouri public schools would stay closed for the rest of the school year.
Students walked out of school that Friday for the last time this year without even knowing what would come next. But for seniors, it would be the last time they stepped foot into Truman High School to attend class… with graduation, prom, and many other sentimental traditions now in jeopardy, it would be like a birthday with no presents. Seniors walked out of school that day as 12th graders, and the next time they have a chance to walk the halls of Truman High School again, they’ll be alumni.
It was apparent that this senior class would have a much different ending to the school year than the ones that came before them. But what wasn’t as clear to essentially the entire world was the precautions that the coronavirus would require. Kids were out of school, adults were out of work, roads were empty, and businesses were struggling to survive. At this point, there was no timetable for when this worldwide shutdown would end and nearly every corner of the world was forced into quarantine.
For just under two months, families were trapped in the barricades of their houses with nobody else to accompany them besides one another. At first, it was a relaxing time. A time to enjoy some days off of work and school. Grades were frozen as students now had little to no responsibilities to stress about. But after a while, it became a difficult time for a lot of people. Parents were unable to go to work and make the money that was necessary to pay the bills and students couldn’t socialize in the same way that they had been used to for so long. It was like the whole world was on pause. Perhaps it’s because that’s exactly what it was.
As I sit and continue writing this story about how our senior year never truly transformed into what a real senior year consists of, I can only think about what we should really be doing on this day… hearing our names being called, walking across the stage in our caps and gowns, receiving the diploma that we’ve worked so hard for over the last thirteen years, and having the entire senior class all together one last time. Instead, that’s a distant two months away… maybe. I wonder if the candles will even last that long. But on the bright side, the most important event is the one that we were able to actually save, no matter how far into the future it is.
Yesterday would have been the last day of school, the senior class would have had a senior breakfast and the legacy walk. Alternatively, it turned into the legacy drive that we dubbed “parade” to give more satisfaction and hope to the fact that we were somewhat able to salvage one of the most emotional end-of-the-year events that almost didn’t exist at all. Honking cars lined the streets, decked out in red and blue, as they passed by each elementary school, middle school, and the final destination, Truman, where teachers lined the front entrance of each building in support of the seniors reaching the endpoint. It was rather dark outside due to the rain that poured from the gray skies, which only added to the sad, dreary emotions of the day.
Those dreary emotions were much like the ones that clouded many students’ brains just a few shorts weeks ago. Prom was scheduled for May 2 but quickly turned into just another day in the life of quarantine. It was supposed to be the day that we get dressed up one last time, taking photos, dancing, and singing amongst our peers in the home of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. It was a day that we had all been dreaming of throughout the last three years of high school. But on this day, we found ourselves still doing that exact thing… dreaming.
It’s very typical for many high school students to dream of the perfect high school ending. It’s what we all want and what most receive. But our dream scenario turned into a nightmare before we knew it. There truly are some lifelong memories that we will have never gotten to create for ourselves, but that’s just the reality of the situation we’re all currently in. We now go down in history, not just for being a part of the suffering as a result of this global pandemic, but for all of the things that we were able to create, accomplish, and conquer during our tenure at Truman High School. This just happens to be another one of them, and we’ll persevere through it too.