While the pandemic and related school closures have caused stress for parents, educators and students, the graduating class of 2020 has felt the effects of a school year lost perhaps most acutely.
“It’s been hard on everyone ... I think it’s kind of that old thing; ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,’ and I think that goes on both sides — the kids and the adults,” Pullman High School Principal Juston Pollestad said. “I walk this building and it’s quiet and it’s lonely and you think ‘I just want people back here.’ ”
Pollestad said the high school has done its best to honor graduating seniors in a tumultuous year, but noted many events designed to recognize and celebrate them, including prom and the graduation after-party — considered rites of passage by many — have been canceled.
In lieu of the usual pomp and circumstance, seniors at Pullman and Moscow high schools will be sent off with a commencement in the University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome parking lot in a socially distanced ceremony with the help of a huge LED screen. Other area schools also are making arrangements for graduation ceremonies in a time of social distancing.
Moscow senior Teagan Riley said many soon-to-be graduates are still reeling from how quickly the COVID-19 situation escalated. He said the week before spring break, there was some light speculation that coronavirus may affect school scheduling but by the time students were supposed to return, school had been canceled for the remainder of the year.
Riley said he has been in fairly strict isolation — only interacting with family and few others — since the end of break.
“He happens to be a high risk as an asthmatic and my husband and I are both high risk as well as diabetics and so it really shut our whole family down,” JoyAnn Riley, Teagen’s mother, said.
“That’s what’s frustrating — my friend group is constantly out doing things because none of them are in the same boat as I am, so they’re planning all these fun activities and stuff,” Teagan added. “It’s normal, high school, teenager stuff that they’re doing but they’re doing it as if there isn’t a health issue with it at all.”
Moscow parent Kristi Peterson said her son, Jacob Johnson, had already been accepted to the UI’s Lionel Hampton School of Music and was just starting to get excited for his future when COVID-19 ground end-of-year celebrations to a halt.
She said they even had to cancel a vacation in San Diego. However, she said, she has been impressed with the decorum with which the class of 2020 has addressed the ongoing crisis, and the consequences of the pandemic haven’t been solely negative.
“In a lot of ways, to be honest, it actually made it more special, because it made us focus on the individual rather than all of the activities that traditionally you participate in during this time of year,” she said. “It made us focus on him and his accomplishments and trying to make sure that he felt that our family as a whole was acknowledging that and other individuals — friends and family — as well.”
While he plans on attending a limited, backyard gathering of his closest friends to celebrate graduation, Teagan critiqued steps to reopen state economies as premature. He said “it’s shocking how many people are just flat-out ignoring the science.”
“It’s a delicate balance, because if normal people don’t have that much of a problem with it and it’s just like a toll, then they’re obviously going to say, ‘what’s the point In staying closed anymore if it’s not going to harm us?’” Teagan said. “On the flip-side of that coin, all the people at risk in this country don’t want us to reopen because if we reopen, and all the normal people go out and catch COVID-19 and spread it all around, then they have a chance of spreading it to at-risk people.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.