The Class of 2020 gathered for a photo earlier in the school year before COVID-19 forced them apart. Submitted photo
[quote_box_right] “I know people are dying and in really bad situations. So, I feel super guilty that I’m upset about losing a senior prom and not getting to walk at graduation.” – Alex-Ann Velasco[/quote_box_right]Taliya Johnson is a Maricopa High School senior who, like everyone else in her class, was looking forward to the final weeks of her senior year.

“I think the hardest part was hearing that we’re not going to have an actual graduation,” Johnson said. “We’re all kind of losing motivation, because that was our motivation. It was kind of heartbreaking.”

High school seniors reflect on everything they will be missing now that schools have been closed state-wide for the rest of the year due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The closures, announced by Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, came after an uncertain timeline of spring break extensions and forced schools to move curriculums to online platforms.

While some students are adept in the changing environment, cruising through online classes, others are beginning to struggle in time-management and focusing on schoolwork.

Many left materials for projects and assignments in the school building, unsure of when they can return to campus to retrieve their belongings. Some wonder how they’ll return textbooks before the end of the year. Overall, seniors lament on all the things they will be missing as a result of closures as part of COVID-19 precautions.

Student Voices

Freya Abraham

Freya Abraham: “It’s hard to believe in the intensity of my losses like prom, graduation, yearbook signings, etc. But it’s also hard to see the death counts rising and the struggles of health care workers. I think that the closure is unfortunate, but necessary. I hear the empathy our teachers and organizers have with students, and that makes it easier.”
Freya is the valedictorian for the class of 2020 whose career goal is to be a physician.

Haley Lemon: “I had a dream of speaking at a graduation ceremony; I wanted the opportunity to say what I believed to a massive group, to try to say something that would inspire people to care for others … Now that is all completely swept away.”
Haley is the salutatorian for the class of 2020.

Angello “Gianni” Hernandez de la Pena: “It came up very sudden, but I told my friends when spring break started, ‘We’re probably not coming back.’ And that’s what happened. Without graduation and without prom, it’s kind of sad. Our course work has reduced a lot. I’ve lost a lot of motivation. It’s hard to stay motivated with courses online.”
Gianni was accepted to and will be attending Harvard College.

Zanaa Ramirez: “I’m a little frustrated. We were doing really well so far, and my teammates worked really hard.”
Zanaa is a leader on the MHS track and field team, which had its season canceled.

Alex-Ann Velasco: “Knowing I won’t get (graduation), working super hard for the stoles and medallions and cords from the different programs I was in – like NHS, theatre, all these programs that were going to give me things to wear at graduation specifically, I’m not going to be able to wear those anymore.”
Alex-Ann qualified for nationals in the theatre/performing arts competition, which was cancelled due to travel ban.  

Taylor Russo

Taylor Russo: “I feel for my friends who are part of the baseball team, they didn’t get to finish their season. I would definitely be really upset if I wasn’t able to finish mine. I got to have my senior night, I got to have my last game and everything because this happened right when the season finished.”
Taylor was the MHS soccer captain during his sophomore, junior and senior year.

Taliya Johnson: “Missing the last dance recital made me the most upset. The last dance recital is the last time dancing with your team, your family. You get a rose at the last recital, on senior night. It’s a big thing for everyone in the company. Going to dance was the thing I looked forward to every day.”
Taliya is a member of the MHS Dance Company’s Performance Group, whose final dance was canceled.

Lexi Hicks

Lexi Hicks: “The thing I was looking forward to the most was definitely graduation, prom, senior ditch day and senior week. I don’t live with my parents so I was extremely excited to have them come down and watch their oldest daughter graduate. I was excited to decorate my cap with my friends and even take prom pictures with them.”
Lexi’s family is from Chicago, Illinois. She had already purchased a prom dress, tickets and graduation memorabilia.

Destiny Campbell: “I am a member of Student Council. This being my last year, I won’t get to fully enjoy all of the end-of-the-year celebrations that Student Council holds for seniors. I was looking forward to senior week, prom and graduation.”
Destiny will be the first member of her family to graduate high school.

Taliya Johnson

A Message from Teachers

Even with the uncertainty, loss and changes, many students have referenced the support and structure teachers are giving, as much as they can, from their newly virtualized courses.

“Your milestones may have been postponed, but you haven’t been. Continue to learn, and grow, and reach, and strive, and change, and be.”

Teachers in the English department at MHS wrote a letter to their Class of 2020 students, posting the letter on social media.

“This is a generational turning point,” the letter read.

The letter to students was signed by senior English teachers Aidan Balt, David Blanchard, Juan Garavito, Laura Lomayesva and Talitha Martin, who have all converted to teaching online along with the rest of the school for the remainder of the school year.

“It has been a major shift and is very difficult to keep track of everything changing for many classes,” Lemon said. “Many teachers have been reaching out to their students in addition to all this and they have all been super kind in trying to help us make the best out of this situation.”

MHS Student Council members, earlier in the year. Submitted photo

Final frustrations

Many students have reached the conclusion school closure is necessary for public safety but back-up plans should be applied for the senior class.

Destiny Campbell

“I understand why they did what they did; everyone’s safety should be a priority,” Campbell said. “but I feel that everything else should not have had to have been canceled.”

While many students understand the need for school closures and social distancing, it doesn’t stop them from feeling the loss of their last moments in high school.

“I feel personally guilty,” said Velasco. “I know people are dying and in really bad situations. So, I feel super guilty that I’m upset about losing a senior prom and not getting to walk at graduation, when I know there are serious things happening in the world around this disease, but I’m still upset about it.”

It is still uncertain when students may be able to return to the building to gather personal items or to return textbooks/other school materials.

“I feel like the class of 2020 has handled this pretty well,” Russo said. “I feel like it could have gone a lot worse, and we’ve all taken it in stride.”

Performance Company, last semester. Submitted photo