“No one knew the last day of school, before spring break, would truly be our last day. No one knew those goodbyes would probably be our last, before something so small — yet hugely impactful — tore 2020 apart,” said Bradley Central teacher Angie Neely.
The Bradley County Schools Classes of 2020 — Bradley Central and Walker Valley high schools — were celebrated in-person, but from a distance at a drive-thru senior parade Saturday evening.
Originally scheduled for Friday, the event was postponed due to rain, but the sun shone on seniors last night as teachers and local first responders lined the campus with signs and tears in their eyes for their students.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has stalled out traditional graduation celebrations across the country. With commencement postponed until at least June, Bradley County seniors have had a strange final semester.
Most of them born after 9/11, and just first-graders during the 2008 Recession, they are turning their tassels as they accept this pandemic as their generation-defining event.
With school out since March 6, spring break was the last chance many students were able to see one another, travel and feel free from the worries of work, school and the novel coronavirus.
The Cleveland Daily Banner reached out to the senior class leaders of Walker Valley and Bradley Central high schools to offer them an opportunity to share their experience from schools shuttering their doors to decorating their cars for this nontraditional celebration.
Before schools and businesses began shutting down, Walker Valley Senior Class President Rebekah Franklin said she was looking forward to the annual Student Government Association Banquet for students and their families, “where we get to laugh and look back on all the work we did throughout the year.”
“Even more than that, I’m saddened for all of the final classes, pep rallies, and lunches with friends and teachers that we won’t get to experience,” she said. “Those key moments like prom and graduation are so special, but I think what I and so many others miss most is our #OneValley family.”
Beginning March 16, school districts transformed their schools into meal zones, learning packet distribution centers, home bases for IT help and neighborhood resource centers for anyone in need.
At first, there was hope the senior class might get to experience their checklist of rites of passage before graduation, but the possibility of senior walks through elementary schools to pranks and one last visit with friends narrowed as the virus spread.
“At the beginning of this, our class realized March 6 could very well have been the last time we got to walk through the halls as students, and our hearts sank,” Franklin said.
Reagan Harrold, Bradley Central High School senior class president, had a laundry list of trips canceled. Costa Rica, Hawaii and New York were all crossed out for her and her family.
But what Harrold said she missed most was the ability to hug her friends.
“I think my whole senior class can agree that we took for granted what we had until it was gone so quickly,” Harrold said.
Adjusting to online meetings “was a little awkward at first,” but Harrold felt her teachers’ support.
And those teachers were glad to see their students once more Saturday.
“With everything so out of our control and ever-changing the senior parade is so important to me not only as a parent of a senior, but also as a senior teacher,” Angie Neely said.
“This is one of the small things we can do to show our seniors how proud we are of everything they have accomplished. I hope they know, no matter what challenges they may face; we are all in this together — not only now but in the future.”
Courtney Thompson, CTE business instructor, said she has seen her students “persevere” through four years with the biggest hurdle given to them in their final weeks of high school.
“It is very exciting to see our seniors back on campus as a group,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, as years fade, the parade will help them reflect on more great memories of their high school journey and reassure them that the faculty and staff of BCHS really care for them. The seniors have persevered through four years to celebrate their accomplishment of graduating and recently rose to the challenges that the spring of 2020 afforded them. I am extremely proud of our seniors and want to wish them the best of luck.”
Jennifer Moore, a Bradley Central math instructor, said she wanted to remind seniors that their teachers will always be thinking of them.
“(I) hope they know even though they are not here anymore, we are, and we are still here for them in life,” Moore said.