Your senior year is one for the ages.
Class trips, prom and graduation all help mark the end of one chapter and the start of another.
The pandemic has stolen some of these moments from the Class of 2020, but that hasn’t kept seniors from celebrating a milestone year.
The Bomb Factory was awash in strobe lights and fog on a recent Saturday night.
Hype men on stage were gassing up dueling DJs, spinning records that would usually make the dance floor irresistible…but tonight, it was empty.
The Deep Ellum music venue mounted a virtual prom in lieu of the real thing.
Lewisville High School senior Kathryn Foster was watching from home.
“I video called all my friends, and we got dressed up in the outfits we’d already bought," Foster said. "I was in this big, blue dress that I’d bought before we found out we weren’t going to come back to school.”
She had fun, but it wasn't how Foster thought she'd be spending the months before she heads off to Baylor in the fall to study neuroscience.
“It was kind of devastating for a lot of us to know that we’d never get senior prom," she said. "We couldn’t say goodbye to some of our friends who were going away."
It was dawning on seniors everywhere. Their last year was going to be very different from what they were expecting.
Demarre Johnson was enjoying spring break when he learned schools were closing indefinitely.
“And we didn’t know when we were going back or if we were going back," Johnson said. "Especially as a student athlete in his last year? That one hurt.”
The class president at Townview Center in Dallas was slated to give a speech at his graduation ceremony.
"My mom was already planning on getting my whole family t-shirts with my face on it and a graduation cap," he said.
Johnson has a full ride to Babson College in Massachusetts, and his family has planned a drive-through graduation party.
“You drive your cars through, you decorate your cars, you honk your horn, you scream and shout," he said. "As they leave, they’re going to throw their gifts in my trunk.”
Jonah Ortiz isn’t letting the shutdown keep him from celebrating either.
“I just wear my button-up shirt, some slacks," Ortiz said. "My girlfriend already had her dress. I told her come over, and we can take some pictures. We took some pictures in my front yard, and that was kind of our little prom.”
The senior at Sunset High School in Dallas is still figuring out what’s next for him.
He might go to Cedar Valley College to become a mechanic, but he also has athletic scholarships to schools in Pennsylvania and Iowa.
"I'm scared," he said. "I'm definitely scared. I don't know what the future holds. I'm going to try my best to become a functioning member of society."
Emilie Garcia feels the same way.
“I am terrified," she said. "I don’t know what will happen in the fall. If my school does decide to open up, if my parents are going to take a risk by taking me, especially since they are older.”
The valedictorian at Carter Riverside High School in Fort Worth plans to study engineering at Emory University.
These final senior year moments hold a special place in her heart.
“I lost my brother my freshman year," Garcia said. "He was a senior, and he wasn’t able to attend his graduation or his prom. For me, it was like closure. Knowing that I started high school with him, and I wasn’t going to end it with him, but at least I was going to experience the events he didn’t get to experience.”
Garcia said she plans to wear her prom dress on the day of her virtual graduation. Her family will make her favorite dish, mole.
She’ll also give a commencement speech.
“I touch on the serial position effect, where you remember the first and last thing of a series best and the middle worst," she said. "Even though we will remember senior year forever, I know that the middle part truly enhanced our experience and made us who we are.”
Garcia said she won't let the last few months define her journey so far.
Despite the fear and uncertainty they may feel about the future, this is a tough group of seniors.
“We’ve been through a lot," Johnson said. "We were born right at 9-11. We had to deal with that turmoil. Now, we’re going through one of the first ever lockdowns in history. I say one thing that the world will know about us is that we won’t quit, and this is not the last you’ve heard of us.”
So, let’s raise a toast to the Class of 2020. The future is in good hands.
Got a tip? Email Miguel Perez at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @quillindie.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.