On August 15, 2019, a group of students began the year at Marietta High School together, one last time. Finally, after all those years of school they were seniors.
At that time, the year seemed fresh and full of possibilities, and although these seniors were vastly different people, they had one common goal: walking across the stage to receive their high school diploma on May 21, 2020.
The fall semester brought a less-than-fantastic football season, but another girls’ cross country state championship, the third in four years for the senior members of the team. The boys’ team finished third, not too shabby.
Add to that a pretty salty-sounding marching band and two state titles for Mr. Bazor’s Ag Mechanics group, who cleaned up at both the Oklahoma City and Tulsa State Fairs, and it was a good start to a last year for the Class of 2020.
Next came the first games of basketball season and Christmas Break, and then January brought with it the start of their last semester in public education. For some seniors, that meant powerlifting, for others band, choir, and speech qualifying contests leading up to state competitions.
Still others looked forward to FFA and FCCLA State Conventions, baseball, and the spring track season.
There was college prep to do, medals and titles to be won, and fun to be had.
As students left school on March 13, they looked forward to their last high school Spring Break, but even more, they looked forward to the last nine weeks of their senior year. Little did they know that they had walked out the doors of MHS for the last time because during that break, the world would, quite literally, turn upside down.
“When I left school for spring break, I wasn’t thinking about much more than trying to find a prom dress and maybe what movies I could see,” said Kaelynn Dobbins. “We’d all heard about the coronavirus but had no idea it would explode into the pandemic it has.”
Seth Brown was looking forward to coming back from break to continue baseball season with his teammates. Cody Hicks was thinking about the work he still needed to put in to get ready for spring track, while Mandy Sykora was thinking it would be a normal break with track practice every morning.
“Little did I know that I had my last track practice at Marietta High School,” she said.
By the end of spring break week, it was clear that nothing about the last quarter of the 2019-20 school year would be normal. First the State School Board extended break for a week. Before the end of that week, they had voted to cancel in-person classes for the remainder of the year. The Class of 2020 wouldn’t be back on campus for any of the things they’d looked forward to for so long.
“My first thought was ‘will we have a graduation’ because that’s something I have been looking forward to for so long,” said Mandy. “My second thought was about my senior track season because our team had so many goals and I had so many individual goals.”
Seth said that he initially was relieved not to have to deal with the drama of high school.
“But then it occurred to me that if we didn’t go back to school, extracurricular events would be cancelled, too, and I would never play baseball for the Indians again,” he said. “That was a really tough realization for me.”
Baseball has always been a big part of his life and not being able to finish his high school career as an Indian wasn’t something he could’ve been prepared for.
“At first, I was excited, thinking that this ‘ending’ of school wouldn’t last,” said Cody Hicks. “Later though, I started to realize what had happened, and then I started to think about all the things I would be missing out on.”
When distance learning began, it was like adding insult to injury.
“Senior year is supposed to be one of the best times in your life,” said Allison Hicks, “but due to the virus, it’s been one of the most stressful times of my life. With classes being changed to online, it’s easy to forget things and get behind. The physical things that can’t be put online are the things I miss the most.
“It’s the memories I’m missing out on, times with my classmates, the memories that I will never get to make. What should be the most memorable part of my senior year is gone because of a virus.”
Missing out on those memories looks different for different people.
“I feel like I didn’t get one last chance to prove myself in track,” said Mandy. “I wanted the opportunity to win the 3200 at state for the fourth year in a row, and our team was a contender for a state championship. My best school memories are all tied up in track.”
Kaelynn feels like she’s leaving behind some unfinished business, something that just doesn’t set well with her.
“I think this year’s girls’ track team could have been one of the best to ever come through Marietta,” she said, “but no one will ever know. We will never have the chance to claim the state title for the first time since 2009.”
Brown is also leaving behind some things, namely FFA projects that he won’t be able to complete.
“I feel like all of the work that we’ve put in, both academically and athletically is going to go unrecognized,” explained Cody, “and that’s tough to take.”
Talking to these teenagers, one feels that it’s the unfinished business that’s the hardest pill to swallow, that and the time that can’t be regained.
“I don’t necessarily miss classes or homework, but I do miss the people,” said Seth. “I miss my teammates, teachers, and coaches. I didn’t appreciate the time I had with them until I didn’t have it anymore.”
Others echo those words.
That COVID-19 has taken some opportunities from the Class of 2020 is undeniable. But after some reflection, many realize that it hasn’t been all bad.
“I can grow my hobbies and recently I’ve taken to fishing and to beating my dad at horseshoes every night,” said Seth with a smile.
Mandy said she’s enjoyed the chance to slow down and enjoy the little things, like the extra time with her family, more.
“The best thing to come of this pandemic is the increased amount of time I have to spend with my family,” said Kaelynn. “During school I stay busy, so I’m gone from home a lot. I’m home now and am able to spend a lot of time with my family, which is great because I’ll be leaving for college soon.”
For Cody, it’s also provided an opportunity for more family time than usual, specifically with his little sister Laney.
“All of this time on my hands has given me the chance to do things I’ve never done before,” he said. “My sister and I have gotten closer and when we get bored, we go fishing at the lake, play basketball, and we even built a treehouse.”
It’s highly likely that May 21 will pass with no graduation at MHS. Not to say that there won’t be a rescheduled ceremony at a later date, but it won’t be the same, and for the Class 2020, that’s a little bittersweet.
Graduation ceremony or no, seniors will still receive their diplomas and be counted as MHS graduates. They’ll still go on to college, jobs or the military. But they’ll do it without the senior/faculty softball game, scholarship assembly, awards assemblies, color run, senior sunrise, or walking the halls in their caps and gowns. And that’s what makes graduating feel a little empty.
Kaelynn, Mandy, Allison, and Seth all wish for the opportunity to end their senior year differently, the chance to go back and to maybe not take the everyday experiences for granted. But it’s Cody who spoke the words they all probably thought they’d never even think, much less say.
“I wish I could go to school on my last day and just sit in the classroom one last time.”
Their advice to underclassmen is simple: whatever time you have, appreciate it. You never know when it’ll be gone.