The senior class of 2020 graduates with much less pomp and circumstance as the coronavirus keeps gatherings truncated and social interaction at arms length, May 22, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

The senior class of 2020 graduates with much less pomp and circumstance as the coronavirus keeps gatherings truncated and social interaction at arms length, May 22, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

‘In a word, it’s been weird’: It’s been a different sort of graduation season for the Class of 2020

Seniors prepare to enter a new world.

This year’s high school seniors will leave their last year not with a bang, but with the whisper of cards and Zoom calls.

“I mean, it’s been weird and strange,” said Thunder Mountain High School student and Class President Michaela Goodman in a phone interview. “I was on the graduation task force that helped put together the plan for graduation. To sum it up in a word, it’s been weird.”

Regular graduation events, such as parties, ceremonies, and prom have been canceled or altered to cleave to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards for social distancing and gathering sizes.

“I was looking forward to having a structured way to say goodbye to my class,” said Katie McKenna, student at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé and student speaker for JDHS’ virtual graduation ceremony. “There are kids I’ve grown up with that I wanted to say goodbye to.”

Courtesy Photo | Michaela Goodman
                                Katie McKenna, who is graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, plans to attend Williams College in Massachusetts and run Division III cross country and track.

Courtesy Photo | Michaela Goodman Katie McKenna, who is graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, plans to attend Williams College in Massachusetts and run Division III cross country and track.

Instead, students at JDHS, TMHS and were recorded by professional videographers over multiple days walking and accepting their diplomas. Valedictorians and class representatives also recorded speeches that they would have otherwise delivered as part of the ceremony.

“It was a good moment. A weird moment, but a good moment,” said TMHS student and valedictorian Keenan Miller. “It doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of finally being done with high school, graduating in an unorthodox way.”

Courtesy Photo | Keenan Miller
                                Keenan Miller, who is graduating from Thunder Mountain High School, plans to attend Yale University in the fall.

Courtesy Photo | Keenan Miller Keenan Miller, who is graduating from Thunder Mountain High School, plans to attend Yale University in the fall.

Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School had heavily modified, in-person event, said Tamara Whitney, an outgoing senior, who earned YDHS’ Student of the Year honors.

She said individualized four-person ceremonies held Friday afternoon, which included masks, were how YDHS was able to honor its graduates.

Courtesy PHoto | Tamara Whitney 
                                Tamara Whitney, who graduated from Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School Friday, plans to attend University of Alaska Southeast in the fall. Whitney said she was pleased with the event YDHS had for seniors.

Courtesy PHoto | Tamara Whitney Tamara Whitney, who graduated from Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School Friday, plans to attend University of Alaska Southeast in the fall. Whitney said she was pleased with the event YDHS had for seniors.

“I’m pretty surprised because I know the Lower 48, they did Zooms and they did drive-bys and stuff,” Whitney said in a post-graduation phone interview. “They came up with this awesome plan to have a ceremony for us and that was great. It shows how much the community cares about the seniors.”

A caring community

The seniors said that the outpouring of support from the community has been palpable, even at a distance.

“I wanted to say a big thank you to the community: I know they’ve worked hard to make it special,” Miller said. “I know a lot of other places didn’t have the opportunity to walk across the stage and say goodbye to at least a few of their teachers before they got their diploma, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity. “

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire 
                                The senior class of 2020 graduates with much less pomp and circumstance as the coronavirus keeps gatherings truncated and social interaction at arms length, May 22, 2020.

Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire The senior class of 2020 graduates with much less pomp and circumstance as the coronavirus keeps gatherings truncated and social interaction at arms length, May 22, 2020.

Others have noticed the ways teachers and coaches have congratulated the outgoing seniors.

“I’ve had a lot of kind notes and cards coming in. I’ve had a lot of little things,” McKenna said. It’s been a lot of paying attention to detail from the people around us.”

Goodman said she’s looking forward to being able to celebrate this milestone with her classmates who would’ve been alongside her in a normal world.

“In terms of my friends, we’re looking at what the social distancing guidelines are so we can celebrate to make sure we acknowledge each other,” Goodman said. “We didn’t get to finish this year as together as we wanted to or intended to.”

Courtesy Photo | Michaela Goodman
                                Michaela Goodman, who is graduating from Thunder Mountain High School, plans to attend Loyola University New Orleans in the fall.

Courtesy Photo | Michaela Goodman Michaela Goodman, who is graduating from Thunder Mountain High School, plans to attend Loyola University New Orleans in the fall.

Moving forward

As colleges determine whether they’ll have in-person classes or not in the fall, students have some decisions to make about their own futures.

Whitney, who intends to attend University of Alaska Southeast, said she’s glad that her plans won’t carry the added uncertainty of distance.

Other young adults are hopeful their campuses will be open in the fall.

“If it’s online for a semester or more, I’ll defer for a year, take a gap year,” said McKenna, who plans to attend Williams College in Massachusetts and run Division III cross country and track. “My tentative plan would be to do some sort of correspondence internship the first semester and travel the second semester.”

Others are hopeful that the campus will be open.

The senior class of 2020 graduates with much less pomp and circumstance as the coronavirus keeps gatherings truncated and social interaction at arms length, May 22, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

The senior class of 2020 graduates with much less pomp and circumstance as the coronavirus keeps gatherings truncated and social interaction at arms length, May 22, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

‘They haven’t decided how they’ll deliver courses and how that’ll look like,” Miller said, who’s planning to attend Yale University in the fall. “Ideally, they’ll still let students on to campus. I’m not sure 100% what the plan is if it’ll be online before making any decisions.”

Still other students are ready to get to their new homes whether the classes are online or not.

“I’m looking forward to kind of just diving into it a little bit,” said Goodman, who plans to attend Loyola University New Orleans. “Even if it was online, I’d probably move down there anyway.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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