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No Prom, No Graduation: What It's Like Wrapping High School In COVID-19

A.J. Walls is a senior at Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy. She's editor of the year book. And shes missing out on the end of her final year in school.
A.J. Walls
A.J. Walls is a senior at Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy. She's editor of the year book. And shes missing out on the end of her final year in school.

The senior year of high school is supposed to be crammed with memory-making moments like prom and graduation. Heck, even emptying your locker for the last time can feel sort of ceremonial.

But for the class of 2020, none of that's happening. KERA caught up with one high school senior who's mourning some missed milestones.

For nearly six years, Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy has been home base for A.J. Walls. The 17-year-old says the happiest moments of her life have happened at the school. And she was really looking forward to some really important events during the final months of her senior year.

"When we left school for spring break, everything seemed normal," she says. "And when we were told we were getting an extra week off, it didn't seem like a big deal."

The class of 2020 had faced off with some difficult midterms leading up to the March vacation, says Walls, so she was actually sort of relieved to have the extra time off. "But then the message shifted to 'We're not going back to school, we're canceling prom and the graduation ceremony is up in the air,'" she says. "There was just a lot of uncertainty."

She hasn't returned to school since. Instead, she's been taking online classes in her bedroom. 

"That really just entails my teachers submitting assignments for us to do and sometimes having to have some sort of online communication, like a Zoom meeting," Walls says.

The experience has been fine, she says. Her teachers check in on her to ensure she's understanding the material and to make sure she's handling the situation well mentally. Walls says they talk about the fact that she's not going through any of this alone, everyone's dealing with something right now. 

A.J. Walls' group of friends pose for a photo during the 2019-2020 school year.
Credit A.J. Walls
A.J. Walls' group of friends pose for a photo during the 2019-2020 school year.

Still, she knows she's missing out on some important stuff from her senior year. "I'm really active in my school," says Walls. "I'm the yearbook editor. I'm also the president of the International Thespian Society. And we are missing out on elections, inductions, banquet — all of our end-of-the-year fun stuff." 

Walls is also missing out on the everyday experiences, too. Like eating lunch in the black box theater and getting into silly arguments with her teachers. 

"I pretty much have the goofiest friend group ever — just absolutely messing around at all times," she says. "And when you're at a school for six years, you're really close with your teachers, you know, everyone kind of knows the bits that you all have, and it is the hardest thing about not being at school." 

"I will say, high school was really hard for me. I had a lot of super trying moments. And I kind of finally felt like it all had a purpose. It took a lot for me to get there. It took a lot for me to feel like a senior. And feel like I was ready to move on," she says. "So I feel like robbed, I guess would be a good word, but I don't know... I guess for a lack of a better term, it sucks." 

The young theater student says she cried quite a bit recently, when she learned that the play she was cast in wasn't going to be performed.

"Out of my four years in high school," she recalls, "I never got on a cast list." Walls auditioned for every show. "I was always there doing my best little monologue. And I just never got it." That changed this year. "When you hit your senior year, and you finally get cast - and then it just all of a sudden gets ripped from you, it's hard." 

But Walls knows this isn't her last chance to make lasting memories. 

"I would say in light of everything, I definitely feel hopeful," she says. "I know that out of tragedy typically come beautiful things. And there is light in every single situation." 

Walls admits she's the kind of person who will always see light in the bleakest of circumstances, but she still praying and hoping people are doing all the right things to keep themselves safe and help end this quarantine. 

"Then I can see my friends. Then I can feel secure in my college plans. And, you know, I can star in my life becauseI haven't gotten to do that yet," she says.

Hady Mawajdeh has been a reporter, producer, and digital editor at KERA since 2016. He is the creator and the co-host of KERA's first narrative podcast, Gun Play. And prior to his work in engagement, he also reported on arts and culture, social justice, and gun rights for the newsroom.