“The Class of COVID-19” will forever be ingrained in the minds of high school seniors in Wharton County. Missed milestones, bittersweet memories and reflecting on the end of high school that wasn’t is a common remembrance.
Without realizing it, hundreds of seniors in WC had their last day of high school in March. As they prepare for college, these seniors-turned-graduates will adapt to a new normal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While students across the U.S. were adjusting to online education, these graduates were left with no way to say goodbye while studying from home or wherever they were. They never got the opportunity to close an important chapter in their young lives.
Wharton High School
If Wharton High School’s Mia Hamlin would have known she would miss her last two days of high school due to extracurricular activities, she would have stayed in school.
“I only went to school the Wednesday before spring break. And man, if I would have stayed there. It really sucks not being able to give my teachers a proper goodbye and thank you for the things they’ve done,” Hamlin said.
On March 13, the Wharton Independent School District announced it would extend spring break until March 23. Students were expected to return to class then, but never did.
When Hamlin found out school was cancelled indefinitely, she was in disbelief.
“Me and my friends were so excited when they announced spring break would be extended. It was like spring break, part 2. But then it led onto another week and another week. Then we realized we really missed school,” she said.
Once the realization set in, there was no choice but to adapt.
“We were so unappreciative of the Friday we had before spring break. We never actually came back to school. I wish we could go back in time,” Hamlin said.
With the closing of schools, Wharton ISD had no choice but to cancel various end-of-year banquets, extracurricular activities, prom and more.
In an effort to celebrate their seniors, Wharton ISD held an outdoor graduation ceremony on June 26.
“I feel like this made me grow up a little bit more. It was kind of a quick thing for us. It helped with discipline, having a schedule and responsibility,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin will be attending the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.
She joined 129 WHS graduates at the new Eddie Joseph Memorial Stadium earlier this month for graduation. Hamlin, like many of her classmates, was the recipient of many items that were given by community members who participated in a Wharton “Adopt a Senior” program.
It was the first of its kind.
Boling High School
Many students who attend Boling High School have attended school with the same classmates since kindergarten. For them, the end of high school was going to mark a time of celebration, remembrance and the closing of a chapter.
Instead, COVID-19 had other plans.
“If I would have known that Friday before spring break was our last day, I would have done something differently. I regret not telling everyone bye. It was upsetting and disappointing,” Kaitlyn Hooper, a graduating senior from BHS said.
On March 30, the Boling Independent School District announced an extended school closure notice to comply with Gov. Abbott’s guidelines. Since then, things have not been the same.
“At first I really wasn’t upset. I was like you know an extra week or two weeks is nice, but then it turned into an extra month before school was cancelled,” Hooper said.
Once the announcement of school closures became public, the information spread like wildfire.
“My friends posted on Snapchat that Boling had cancelled school. I thought it wasn’t true. It didn’t seem real,” Hooper said.
For Hannah Mata, missing out on showing her pig at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, along with the WCYF, was her biggest disappointment.
Mata planned on “going out with a bang” her senior year. It was her last opportunity to show.
“It makes you realize and miss things. You’re not going to have the same friend group you did all 12 years of school. People go off and do different things. It’s really eye opening,” Mata said.
She missed out on everything the senior class had planned, including a senior trip, senior skip day, various banquets, class photo and much more.
“Everything gets so much more real. You realize you have nothing else to do. What am I going to do with my life?,” Mata said.
The girls’ classmate, Jason Mach, was planning on competing in the state debate tournament once spring break was done.
“It’s crazy to think we didn’t know when our last day was,” Mach said.
When he found out school was cancelled for the remainder of the year, it was a weird feeling.
“The one thing I was a little bit disappointed about not getting to have was the last week of school and knowing I was going to graduate,” Mach said.
By the time graduation rolled around, Mach felt as if he didn’t earn it, due to not attending school for weeks.
“It was a bummer not getting to say goodbye to people. I’ve just accepted that that’s just how things are in this moment,” Mach said.
Despite the closing of school, Boling ISD held an outdoor graduation ceremony on June 4. The Class of 2020 finally got the recognition the graduates deserved at Bulldog Stadium.
“The good part was that we got to graduate outside, but it was weird being so far apart from each other,” said Mata, when describing the seating arrangements during commencement.
The Boling community also organized an inaugural “Adopt a Senior” program for its seniors.
“I greatly appreciate all of the gifts that were given to me. I got a lot of stuff that will greatly help me during college. I know during the pandemic, a lot of people lost their jobs and money can be kind of tight. To actually take time out of your day and resources is really nice,” Mach said.
With BHS being cancelled, many seniors felt as if they had grown up faster.
“All of this has been a pretty stressful time. I do feel like I’ve grown a bit during this pandemic,” Mach said.
Hooper, Mata and Mach all look forward to attending college in the fall. Both Hooper and Mata will be attending Wharton County Junior College. Mach is planning on attending the University of Houston - Downtown.