CLEVELAND, Ohio — Three high school seniors in the Cleveland metro area want to make sure their class is not the forgotten class.
Lilly MacDonald, Leroy Berts and Owen Ekechi wrote letters to the 2020 graduating class; speeches they won't give to their classmates because traditional graduations are canceled.
“I thought the year would be the most fun. And, I figured that I put a lot of hard work in to the first semester and pretty much the first quarter of second semester and then the last quarter of senior year would be all fun," said MacDonald, a recent North Ridgeville High School graduate. “It was nothing like that. It turned out our very last quarter was at home."
In the fall, she's heading to Hiram College and accepted a scholarship to join the college's swim team.
“It was really frustrating at first. And, like, I lost a lot of motivation (because) I was like ‘it doesn’t even matter at this point," MacDonald said about the transition to virtual classes and the loss of a traditional senior year. "But I had to change my mindset because it still does matter.”
The last time MacDonald was in her classes was March 13. She, like seniors across the state, thought they would be returning in a few weeks.
“Then the two weeks turned in to two months," said Leroy Berts. “So, it was hurtful.”
Berts is waiting for his abbreviated graduation ceremony from Euclid High School. After the summer, he is leaving Ohio for Columbia College in Chicago.
“I was overthinking a lot. I was thinking like ‘How come this happened to us?'” he said about the decision to close schools. “It was just heartbreaking really.”
For Berts, he took solace in being close to family during the upheaval.
“I was kind of disappointed but nice I get to stay home a little bit more," said Parma Senior High School graduate Owen Ekechi. "But, still, kind of disappointed."
Ekechi was his class president. He was ready to plan big, traditional high school events like prom and senior skip day — none of which happened.
“Well, we still got winter formal in so that was nice," he said trying to look on the positive side of all the changes. In August, Ekechi will start his freshman year at The Ohio State University.
All three students are trying to look forward but processing the massive changes hasn't been easy. Especially when they try to talk with adults.
“I know a lot of adults don’t quite understand because obviously we’re in very different places. They did receive that graduation and that final closure which is really good for them," MacDonald said. "Like, this is the biggest deal to me at the moment...And so, I just want them to know that just to be respectful and it does suck for us but we are trying to make the most out of the situation.”
And she said they have. MacDonald and her friends keep in touch virtually and celebrate graduation in small groups.
“It hurts us and I don’t really think people really understand and can like comprehend that what we’re going through is painful,” Berts said about the changes. “I feel like people need to know that we are hurt.”
Despite the frustration, all three said they are looking forward to starting college and are happy they have memories that are unique to the class of 2020.
Letter to Class of 2020 from Owen Ekechi:
“Dear class of 2020. Congratulations! We made it. After four and a half years of hard work, we are finally able to receive our diplomas and start the next chapter of our lives. I know you may feel robbed of your significant events in our senior year. This virus took away the final moments with our friends and staff that we each cherish so much. It took away our traditional commencement and prom. We should appreciate the staff for trying to salvage the remainder of the year by proactively hosting online lessons and allocating resources to develop a new plan for a commencement and other way of celebrating our achievements. But I know it is still not the same. It is okay to feel both excited and worried about the future. As I am concerned about the safety of our peers and the well-being of America. I pray for a quick recovery for all those effected by COVID and hope we can resume everyday life soon. If you recall in the fall everything was great. Attending Friday night football games and hanging out with friends. But, then, the coronavirus occurred. Which caused the sports season to abruptly end, the curtain to drop on the spring play and concerts and we were all sent home with the uncertainty of knowing what the remainder of the school year would look like. It is astonishing to see how quickly things can change. And how much of an impact it can have on our daily lives. This is just another bump in the road our class has endured. We entered the world in the shadow of 9/11 – the worst terrorist attack in US history. And we will now graduate high school amidst the pandemic of the century. Although this isn’t how we expected our senior year to commence we must remain positive and refuse to be defined by this pandemic. We should focus more on the other four and a half years of high school and all the wonderful memories that came with it. The magical nights on the dance floor. The heightened energy at the assemblies. And the everyday conversations all shaped our experiences at Parma Senior High. Outside of school, bonfires accompanied by stories and laughs that went hours in to the night. Hearing the final buzzers as our sports teams won a rivalry game; or meeting up with friends, singing to our heart’s content. These memories shouldn’t be overshadowed or forgotten. I can’t imagine a group more prepared to handle this situation than our class. We are technically skilled and our use of social media has allowed us to stay connected and learn efficiently under this new environment. This unique opportunity has showcased our class commitment and dedication to persevere during these difficult times. And see our goals through and walk across the stage whether physically or virtually. I am proud of each and every one of you. I am proud to be a part of the class of 2020. And wish you luck on your future endeavors. We are strong and we will rise above this. Go Parma.”
Letter to the Class of 2020 from Leroy Berts:
“Dear class of 2020. We have finally done it. It may not seem like we have given the circumstances of how the world has changed so drastically within these beginning months of 2020. I know we didn’t get to have those last, great senior moments like prom, senior skip day and, for some, graduation. But in the end the class of 2020 is undoubtedly the strongest class in history. It may not seem like it now but when these troubled times pass, you, I and everyone else will realize that we are strong. That we can and will prosper in any situation that is given to us whether we want it to or not. And I know that my generation will speak up and out about what’s right and what they believe in. No matter how tough things get, we all need to remember that the more we empower each other the greater the change will be. Class of 2020 is my class and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Sincerely, Leroy Berts.”
Letter to the Class of 2020 from Lilly MacDonald:
“Dear class of 2020. On Friday, March 13th we unknowingly had our very last day of high school. As we left school that day, many of us were in good spirits that we would be back in just a few short weeks. But we were very wrong. 2020 was supposed to be our year. The year for prom, senior skip day, senior prank, award ceremonies, last sport seasons and even graduation. For many, this was the year they were team captain, club officer or just a leader in school. And we were robbed of all this. We had to make the difficult switch to being present every day in the classroom to learning via a laptop and grainy video of our teachers. Some will try to downplay the situation COVID-19 has put us in and try to invalidate our feelings. But that is unfair. We should be upset and we should embrace those feelings but we should also try to look on the bright side of things. Although we missed so much of our senior year we have also had special experiences that no one else has received. There was Facebook groups created for the class of 2020 called “Adopt-A-Senior” where parents could adopt seniors and send them gifts. Many schools, NRHS included, still held a graduation ceremony just in a very unique way. Some school held online ceremonies while others had them in person while implementing social distancing. 2020 seniors have also received so much more recognition than previous classes. I’m not saying this in any way makes up for losing the best part of our senior year, but our schools and communities didn’t have to try to make this year better for us – yet they did. We now have stories we will one day share with our kids and even our grand kids that no one else can tell. We have the power to make the most of our situation and the best thing we can do is stay positive and help each other get through this rough patch of history. It may not be what we envisioned our senior year to be but this is still very much our year.”
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