by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Dresses meant for prom may have to stay in closets a bit longer, but local high school seniors are still making the best of their last month of school.
Caroline Dahlke, Cal Brinkman and Emily Cierzan are all seniors at Winona Senior High School (WSHS). Their lives have shifted from being full of classes, groups and activities to distance learning and recognizing that graduation will look different for them.
When schools are not closed, Dahlke typically participates in student council, W Club and National Honor Society (NHS). She also plays soccer, helps manage the adaptive floor hockey team and is a member of the track team.
She said not being able to take part in the groups and sports she usually does has led to some positive days and some challenging days. “At first, it was hard to grasp onto,” Dahlke shared. “Until the governor officially announced we weren’t going back to school, I tried to keep some hope we’d go back. It’s hard, knowing senior year is over, basically.”
Brinkman is typically a member of the baseball team when schools are not closed. He has been playing the sport since he was young, and he was hoping to be considered for a baseball scholarship this year. “When the rains were coming, I told my dad, ‘It smells like our game is about to get delayed,’ because around this time is when the rains come and games are postponed,” Brinkman noted. “It’s different, because it’s the same weather I’d be playing in, but without baseball.”
When schools are not closed, Cierzan usually takes part in student council, W Club, NHS, Spanish Honor Society and band. She is a member of the soccer and track teams as well.
She said not being able to take part in the groups and sports she usually does has meant adjusting to a different schedule. She added that keeping in contact with her teachers and friends has helped with that adjustment.
Cierzan shared that not being able to have a typical prom and graduation is a bit saddening, but she and her friends hope to celebrate together in the future. “I know my friends and I had dresses bought, and graduation is what you look forward to your entire not only high school career but throughout all schooling, so it’s kind of a bummer we have to get those pushed back … my friends and I are still trying to do something once distancing is over,” Cierzan stated.
The students noted they feel staff members will work hard to celebrate the class of 2020 in whatever way is possible. “Even before we knew this was going to be a huge pandemic, I was really anxious about graduation, so once we found out it wouldn’t be a traditional ceremony, I asked lots of teachers lots of questions … I have a feeling they’ll make it special,” Dahlke noted. “It helps knowing [staff members] care a lot about it.”
Cierzan also said she appreciates staff members’ understanding and efforts. “They still want to make it special for us, even though we have lots of [stay-at-home executive order] restrictions,” Cierzan shared.
Brinkman said he knows staff members will do all they can to mark graduation for the class of 2020. He added that it would be special to highlight the class’ successes, such as the football team’s achievements over the class’ four years at WSHS.
The students are remaining upbeat as much as possible during the distance learning period. “Being able to be with family is nice … even though we can’t see our friends,” Dahlke stated.
Brinkman said he has enjoyed spending time with family as well. “I’ve been able to see my dad a lot more because he usually travels,” Brinkman noted. “I’ve been out fishing almost every day, so that’s nice. Being more in touch with my family is definitely what I’ll remember more.”
He also said he feels distance learning is helping him prepare for college classes.
Cierzan said her enjoyment of engaging with teachers and classmates in-person has been reinforced. “I think it really helps you appreciate all your years of schooling … It makes you appreciate the time with classmates and teachers and realize how special everything is,” Cierzan explained.
At Lewiston-Altura High School, yard signs are in front of the school, and the student council is creating an Instagram page for seniors. The yard signs feature student photos and names, and seniors will receive theirs before the conclusion of the year. In the online realm, students are posting photos and information about their post-secondary plans, and staff members have shared photos of students in their future school or work wear. Another local school, Cotter aims to have a “stay safe” graduation celebration. WSHS Principal Mark Anderson noted at the WAPS Board’s May 7 meeting that he and some seniors recently met to discuss graduation and aim to do so again soon.
The Minnesota Department of Education, Office of Higher Education and Minnesota Department of Health recently shared guidance for schools on graduation ceremonies. Remote ceremonies are the top recommendation. The guidelines note that indoor graduations and ceremonies outside in stadiums or football fields are not allowed.