ELLSWORTH — If life seems a bit unfair to Hancock County’s Class of 2020, there’s good reason.
For years, students in this year’s senior class watched as their siblings, cousins, friends and other students took part in graduation ceremonies, senior proms, last days of school and other traditional rites of passage that come with the end of high school. As they did so, they long awaited the day when they would be able to experience those unforgettable moments for themselves.
Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus pandemic means those events aren’t in the cards as the 2019-20 academic year comes to a close. Even for those schools planning alternative ways to recognize seniors, the celebrations will look very different.
“We’ve been looking forward to all of these things since we were 5 years old, and to not get it is really upsetting,” said Jaiden Dennison, a senior at George Stevens Academy. “We’re missing out on all those things now and don’t know what it’s going to be like tomorrow. It’s like a black hole.”
Graduation is the ultimate crowning achievement in any high school student’s educational experience. It is the pinnacle of more than a decade of hard work in the classroom for students as well as an achievement that sparks pride and joy across generations of extended family members gathered together in celebration.
Yet with schools closed and gathering sizes limited, there will be no filled auditoriums; no smiling students walking across the stage; no students congratulating their friends and posing for pictures outside school buildings; no teary-eyed parents applauding as their children receive their diplomas. Graduation parties, some of which have been in the works for months, are, at the very least, on hold.
“Knowing that we’re not going to have a [traditional graduation] has definitely been the hardest thing for me,” said Ellsworth High School senior Trinity Montigny. “Not walking across that stage is tough for us, and it’s also tough on our parents and our families.”
There is also the loss of proms and spring sports Senior Days, moments graduating classes of years past have enjoyed but that won’t be taking place this year. Some Hancock County high schools have plans in the works to hold “virtual” versions of such events, but those measures, though well-intended, cannot replace what’s being lost.
Then, of course, there is the last day of school. For years, it has come on warm, usually sunny June days after final exams have been completed and papers have been submitted. This year, it came in mid-March as anxious students gathered to collect remote learning materials.
“I think it’s safe to say we’re all pretty bummed out,” said GSA senior Liam Webb. “A lot of us just wish we could’ve had time to say goodbye. Everything happened so fast.”
At the time, there was no telling how the remainder of the school year would unfold. With most schools initially announcing they would be closed through the end of March, many students who anticipated they would be back unknowingly left for what would be the final time.
“When we came in that day, I thought, ‘Oh, whatever, we’ll all be back soon,’” Montigny said. “It wasn’t a feeling that it was going to be the last day, at least not for me. I had no idea it was going to go on this long.”
Whereas some high school instruction can be done online, things are different for students enrolled in Hancock County Technical Center programs. Those programs tend to be more hands-on than the traditional classroom environments found in high schools.
Dennison, who is enrolled in HCTC’s health occupations program, began the year with hopes of obtaining her certified nursing assistant (CNA) license. She’s now accepted that, through no fault of her own, getting such a certification in the immediate future is unlikely.
“I’m good friends with another senior in the program, and we specifically wanted to help in nursing homes this summer,” Dennison said. “With all of this happening, we won’t be able to do that.”
Also of concern is the status of college campuses for the fall 2020 semester. As seniors wrap up their high school educations and get set for the future, those continuing their schooling are unsure whether they will be heading off to campus or continuing a new stage of their lives from home.
In the meantime, students are looking to parents, teachers, college advisers and others for guidance. Few Mainers are finding life easy at the moment, and although missing out on many of the moments they’ve seen senior classes before them enjoy is a bitter pill for this year’s class to swallow, the support, both academic and emotional, is making life just a little bit easier.
“We’ve had a lot of teachers and parents reach out to us, and I think we’ve done the best we can to manage it,” Dennison said. “It’s a hard time for everyone, and for us as seniors, it’s just a really unfortunate timing.”