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Prom, Graduation And Spring Musicals: Class Of 2020 Mourns Its Loss

There’s no doubt that among the K-12 students impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, high school seniors were dealt the hardest emotional hit.

Many left school in March not knowing if they’d eventually return for the most exciting months of their high school careers and all the events tied with it. Those hopes were dashed once Governor Mike DeWine closed Ohio schools for the rest of the year. 

Students cast in the St. Ignatius High School spring musical “Mamma Mia” have all their hopes for a performance pinned on summer dates that could ultimately be canceled as well. Kelsey Burdorff’s lead role as Sophie marks her first time in a St. Ignatius Harlequins production and Burdorff, a Strongsville High School senior, was excited to perform with all the new people she’d met.

Just a few weeks before opening night in late March, the director David Hoover had the unfortunate task of letting cast and crew know the spring dates were canceled and the show was being rescheduled.

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Cast members of St. Ignatius High School's 2020 Musical "Mamma Mia" [Kelsey Burdorff]

I just remember being really frustrated that day,” said Burdorff, “Just really upset because I've watched my friends that were upper classmen at Strongsville and even at Ignatius that get their, like, shining moment, their senior-year musical. And I was just really ready to experience that.”

St. Ignatius senior Anthony Chalhoub, who was cast as Harry in “Mamma Mia” said beyond the musical, there are so many aspects to the end of senior year he’ll be sad about missing.

“It just does really suck having to miss out on all the fun things,” said Chalhoub. “It's, like, you worked for not only just the four years of high school, but, like, all 12 years of going through all this schooling. And it's, like, prom, graduation, second semester, senior year- that's, like, the pinnacle of everything you've worked for in your, like, your primary years. And to have that taken away while you’re making that final stretch feels like a cruel twist of fate.”

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Anthony Chalhoub (right) and cast members of "Mamma Mia" during rehearsal. [Anthony Chalhoub]

Prom was another event Burdorff was looking forward to. She’d started talking with friends about the night as far back as December and had already bought her dress.

“That's when we started making, like, real plans about, like, who we're sitting with at our table and where we, like, just ball-parking where we want to take pictures and everything. We were really planning ahead for it.” 

But Burdorff is mentally bracing herself for a contingency plan. She’s heard of parents and students holding virtual proms online.

“So, as much as I would love to, like, have an in-person prom instead,” Burdorff said, “if it comes to that, I know that it’ll still be fun to do my hair and makeup and put on my dress and everything. So, I mean, I could always do that if worse comes to worse.”

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The cast for "Mamma Mia" is rehearsing over Zoom for summer show dates. [Kelsey Burdorff]

The staff at St. Ignatius know how hard this is for their seniors. They’re taking a wait-and-see approach for prom, the musical and graduation, too. Rather than canceling the events now, they have been rescheduled for the end of July. Administrators say they’ll hammer out details based on the governor’s guidelines at the time. 

Chalhoub knows there’s a chance the summer performances of “Mamma Mia” will be canceled as well, but he’s holding out hope the cast joins each other on stage at some point in the future.

Matters Of Pomp And Circumstance

Weeks ago, the Ohio Department of Education told high schools to hold virtual ceremonies on or around the original graduation date. The ODE shifted gears April 29, saying high schools could have drive-thru ceremonies or in-person events that do not exceed 10 people at a time. 

Staff at Horizon Science Academy Cleveland High School discussed whether to take up one of those options, but decided on a virtual ceremony this month as the safest option that adheres to social distancing guidelines.

Eighteen-year-old Deztany Clay is one of the top students in her class at Horizon, loves being on student council and was all ready for the big senior events.

“I ordered a lot of things,” Clay said, with a giggle. “So, like, cap and gown, the tassel, the senior apparel, the hoodies, the sweat pants. Even going into prom, my dress, jewelry, shoes, just like, the whole nine.”

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Horizon Science Academy Cleveland High School Senior Deztany Clay was looking forward to sitting row to row with her friends and classmates at graduation. [Deztany Clay]

But the end to Clay’s senior year was dismantled by COVID-19, as was the graduation image she’s long held in her mind.

“I always thought about, you know, turning the tassel to the other side,” Clay said. “You know, sitting row-to-row with my fellow classmates, being able to walk across the stage. Then hear my parents cheer as I receive my diploma. You know, just little things like that.”

Still, Clay maintains perspective and said she feels for those who’ve lost loved ones to the coronavirus and is grateful she and her family are healthy.  But forgoing an in-person graduation is a different kind of loss for Clay and her parents, who never experienced a graduation of their own. Clay’s mother left high school and eventually completed her GED; her dad never graduated high school.

“You know, because technically, I'll be a first-generation student to not only graduate high school in my right year, but also to go to college,” Clay said. “I can tell they're pretty upset about it, but they're not trying to make me feel more down about it.”

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Senior Deztany Clay and her classmates at Horizon Science Academy High School [Deztany Clay]

Shaker Heights High School is also moving forward with a virtual graduation, although Principal Eric Juli said should coronavirus-related guidelines change later this summer, so will senior-related “programming.”

Some parents and students at Shaker Heights High School were frustrated with the decision to move forward so quickly with an online event, and a small group held a protest outside the district administration building April 24. But the decision was made to ensure the safety of students and staff, Juli said.

As a principal, he also mourns the loss of the in-person graduation, he said, and “handing each student their diploma” is one of the best parts of his job.

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Shaker Heights High Senior Jordan Green is sad he didn't get to play tennis this season. [Jordan Green]

Of the big senior events, Shaker senior Jordan Green is most sad to miss prom, but it’s the run-of-the-mill days in high school he’ll remember.

“The nights that you know never ended and you go out and do whatever,” said Green. “Also, I had the most incredible teachers and all the bonds that I was able to make, and connections. It was just – everything was just a good experience.

“I was on the tennis team. Man, it was just such a great time with them. It's such a bummer. I didn't get to play this year,” Green said. “High school. It was just so fun.”

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