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Coronavirus Circumstances Lead To Less Pomp For High School Seniors

A young woman leans on a ledge, stares out across the sky. She's dressed in graduation gown and cap
Andre Hunter

Florida schools have been shut down for about two and a half weeks now and are expected to remain closed at least through May 1. Some school districts are already making plans to be out for the remainder of the year, even as Governor Ron DeSantis mulls a re-opening.  The closures are especially hard for seniors who are facing the loss of milestones like graduation.

It’s hard to imagine graduation ceremonies without Pomp and Circumstance. The two came together in the early 1900’s and have been inseparable ever since. But this year given the circumstance, graduations could see far less pomp.

"I was either working out, or coming home from my classes at TCC when I found out….I found out my high school classes were cancelled later that day. I was kind of shocked," said Jalan Black, a Gadsden County Crossroad Academy senior whose final school year has been cut short due to the coronavirus. 

Jalan is also earning his A.A. degree from Tallahassee Community College, and while he says he won’t miss prom—he went last year—the cancellation of graduation has left his family devastated. He's mourning the loss of senior trips to Orlando’s Universal Studios and a cruise to Jamaica.

“Like, everyone wants to be a senior and take the cruise," Black said. "For us to see the seniors go last year and not experience it, it’s kind of like a shot in the foot.”   

I was ready for it to be over. But now that it's reality, it really stinks.

St. Augustine High School Senior Jillian Gregory said she broke down in tears when she found out her high school graduation ceremony wouldn't be happening as planned due to COVID-19.

“I was at my aunt’s house and I got a test from our class of 2020, and they just said graduation was 

A young woman with brown-bond hair smiles in a jersey while holding a soccer ball in front of a net.
Credit Jillian LaValley / provided by Jillian LaValley
provided by Jillian LaValley
St. Augustine High School Senior Jillian LaValley created a change.org petition asking the St. Johns School District to postpone graduation instead of holding a virtual ceremony.

cancelled and I started crying, like, I can’t believe they’ve given up on us.”   

Jillian launched a change.org petition to get the St. Johns County School District to consider postponing graduation instead doing it virtually. So, far, the petition has garnered about 12,000 signatures. Jillian says she’s lost motivation. She only has three classes, and while it’s easy to keep up, she’s got lots of free time, which has led to some procrastinating.

“I miss seeing everyone and being able to ask questions face-to-face rather than over email.”

When asked whether she thought she'd miss school, Jillian said "no, not at all. I was ready for it to be over. But now that it's reality, it really stinks."

“I have a senior, my daughter is a senior, so I get it," said Leon County School District Superintendent Rocky Hanna. "There’s some real anger here about being robbed of the second semester of their senior year.”

While Leon schools haven't formally called graduation off, Hanna is growing increasingly concerned the district won’t be able to hold any ceremonies.

“I had some really cool ideas about how to have a ceremony without us all running to the civic center in masks and I was really excited about it thinking that we’d be through this by the first part of June and we could really do it. But now, listening to the folks at TMH [Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare]  who are saying the curve in Leon County is going to peak June 7-June 15th. I’m like, ‘oh, don’t tell me [that].'"

The model Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare is using projects COVID-19 cases in North Florida will peak in June. A model in use by the state and federal government, shows cases statewide peaking in late April. Hanna says if he can make a ceremony happen, he will.

The Florida Department of Education and Governor Ron DeSantis have set a tentative return to school date of May first. DeSantis says if it’s safe, he’d like to see kids back in school, even if its only for a few weeks.

“We want to give people enough time to prepare so I don’t think we would want to, the day before, say everyone go back to school the next day. We’re going to be deliberate and make the best decisions we can," he recently told reporters when asked whether schools would resume. "It may be that not every county is treated the same in this. There’s nothing wrong with that. If the problem is different in certain parts, we should recognize that. And if the problem has abated in other parts, we should recognize that.” 

The governor says he knows how students are feeling.

“When you are in school, particularly with the high school kids…there’s a social dimension to this—graduation, prom, sports, all these different things. To have that taken away is a big deal.” 

Meanwhile, in Bay County, Superintendent Bill Husfelt is also promising something for seniors.

“We will commit to do whatever we safety can for a ceremony for you, some kind of graduation celebration. As things loosen up and we’re able to do those things, we’ll do whatever we can for you," Husfelt said on twitter.

It just may not look or feel like the traditions of past.

Jalan Black says he’s enjoying his free time and is staying focused on finishing his classes. He will attend the Air Force Academy on a football scholarship and is expected to report July 11.  Jillian LaValley plans on attending Florida State University in Fall. As far as she’s been told, that’s still the plan. 


Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.