Everett High Principal Lance Balla’s voice boomed and music blasted as teens drove through the stadium parking lot. He was shouting, but it wasn’t any warning to slow down. “Congratulations!” was his message as seniors at a drive-thru event picked up caps, gowns and Class of 2020 yard signs.
In this year like no other, coronavirus precautions will cause graduating seniors to miss in-person commencement ceremonies. Proms, scholarship awards presentations, ballgames and track meets are canceled. Yearbook-signing gatherings, class trips and other rites of passage won’t happen.
The class that was born when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred will finish high school during a global pandemic.
“Those events are bookending their K-12 experience,” said Kelly Shepherd, principal of Everett’s Sequoia High School.
In the Everett Memorial Stadium parking lot, Everett High staff members lined up Tuesday — wearing masks and standing 8 feet apart — along a lane where cars arrived and students and parents picked up graduation supplies.
The Jostens company, which sells custom school products, handed out boxed caps and gowns ordered earlier in the year. “Higher Love” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” boomed from a sound system. Cars rolled over asphalt decorated in sidewalk chalk — with seagulls, “2020” and other sentiments.
One young driver couldn’t wait. She placed the blue mortarboard on her head, the tassel swinging as she laughed and slowly drove toward Balla. He handed a sign through her car window, and offered his hearty congratulations.
“As of now, I am going to be recording my speech along with the other valedictorians at Marysville Getchell,” said Garrett Devereux, an 18-year-old whose twin brother Parker will graduate from Marysville Pilchuck High School.
Both are headed to the University of Washington this fall — if coronavirus restrictions are lifted to allow on-campus classes. Garrett plans to study computer science. His brother’s focus is math.
“My message is about cherishing all of the time we have had together, both the good and the bad, because it has strengthened our relationships and made us better people,” Garrett said of his speech. He had hoped to deliver it at Angel of the Winds Arena in June.
Parker Devereux, a valedictorian at Marysville Pilchuck, said he’s missing the time he’d normally be spending with “the great people and friends I have made over these years, knowing that after we graduate I probably won’t see a lot of them again.”
Their senior-year baseball seasons were also lost to school closures and Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.
Garrett, the only catcher on Marysville Getchell’s varsity team this year, said, “I really would have enjoyed catching every game and forming new relationships with some of the younger players.”
An outfielder for the Tomahawks, Parker played three sports every year of high school. Missing his final season is “definitely tough,” but he said, “I am trying to remember the good things, rather than think about what could have happened.”
Garrett’s favorite high school memory is of a junior year band trip to Disneyland. This year, he missed another trip with the band, to Whistler, British Columbia.
“I am going to miss senior awards, senior cruise and the final moving-up assembly where we usually say goodbye to everyone for the last time,” he said.
Their mother, Sarah Devereux, teaches third grade at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School. She grew up on the Oregon Coast and graduated from Newport High School there in 1990. She hasn’t forgotten silly senior antics and how her school marked the school year’s end.
“I remember senior skip day,” she said. Her class went to Honeyman State Park south of Florence, Oregon, a coastal getaway known for its sand dunes. “It was so much fun.”
As a senior prank, “we put a classroom on the roof of the school” by hauling up chairs and desks, she said. There were senior awards and a senior breakfast. When she thinks of her sons missing it all, she said, “my heart hurts for them as a mama.”
The Marysville mom does see an upside to the stay-home order.
“The silver lining is bonus family time,” she said. “We prepare and enjoy meals. Normally they’re so busy.”
For Emily Scott, who’ll soon graduate from Glacier Peak High School, the coronavirus crisis caused more than the cancellation of graduation, her softball games, or the prom she was excited about attending, at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. It played into her college choice.
Cecily Scott, Emily’s mom, explained the problem. Her daughter was accepted by out-of-state universities, as well as the UW. She had considered attending Colorado State University or Northern Arizona University, but didn’t want to pay out-of-state tuition if she’d still be home taking classes online this fall.
Friday was the UW deadline to accept an admission offer, while the Arizona and Colorado schools extended theirs to Aug. 1, said Cecily Scott. Her daughter, she said recently, was “struggling with her decision.”
“It adds a whole new level of how the coronavirus is affecting things,” Emily Scott said.
That decision has now been made.
“I have accepted my offer at UW,” Emily said by text Thursday. “I’m really excited.”
Like the Devereux twins, she’s a valedictorian — with a “4.0 freshman to senior year, every single class.”
Emily plans to study microbiology, and aims to eventually earn a PhD.
“I want to work in a lab of some sort,” she said. With today’s push for COVID-19 treatments and a vaccine, she said she’s “reassured there is a need for those types of jobs.”
She’s sad that her last year at Glacier Peak was cut short.
“I have trouble with lasts — the last times you see your friends, kids in classes you don’t know very well. And softball — I won’t get a senior night to celebrate. That’s a pretty difficult last,” said Emily, who doesn’t plan to play in college.
And there’s that special dress-up dance, which was to have been May 23 at MoPOP. “I was really looking forward to prom. I hadn’t gone to a lot of dances because I played select softball, there were always conflicts,” said Emily, whose boyfriend and would-be prom date is headed to Grand Canyon University.
Some seniors, including the Devereux twins, will earn associate’s degrees as well as high school diplomas. Garrett and Parker Devereux are finishing two-year degrees at Everett Community College through the Running Start program.
Alex Jensen, a Lakewood High School senior and ASB president, will also earn an AA degree from EvCC as well as his diploma. He’ll attend Seattle University, where he has signed to run cross country and track. He’ll study biology and hopes to teach high school — at Lakewood, his alma mater.
These last weeks of his senior year have been strange for the Arlington 18-year-old.
“I’m doing good, but I miss my friends,” said Alex, who goes running every day by himself. While he takes classes via Zoom, he said his 21-year-old sister Mariah Jensen, a substitute teacher at Arlington High School, is teaching online from their home.
For Jackson High School senior Ellie Friedrichsen, the academic transition has been easy enough. What hurts is not seeing friends and teachers.
“I love all of my teachers and the principal,” she said, “and with staying at home all the time … it’s not the same connection as when I’m at school.”
FaceTime and text messaging have replaced sporting events and senior-year traditions. On the last day of school, Ellie would have celebrated the yearbook she worked all year to help produce. And it’s tough to accept the loss of her graduation ceremony.
“I was looking forward to it so much,” she said. “It’s your moment to commemorate your 12 years of hard work.”
Looking to the future, she’s optimistic. Ellie plans to attend Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, where she’ll play soccer and major in biochemistry.
“I will be able to see everyone again, I know that,” said Ellie, who is hoping all the people she misses are staying safe and healthy.
Lake Stevens High School senior Kylie Foutch finds hope in what’s to come. But it still stings to miss all the memorable moments that should have been part of this spring of 2020. Kylie found her stride in joining ASB at Lake Stevens High this year, and was looking forward to planning the senior dinner-dance, now canceled.
“Not being able to have those last several months with my friends is really digging into me right now,” said Kylie, who will attend Santa Clara University on a soccer scholarship. Her goal is a double major in neuroscience and philosophy.
“I’m still upset about not having the rest of my senior year,” she said, “but I think it’s better to keep in perspective what we are going to be experiencing rather than what we haven’t.”
Lights on for seniors
Schools and communities are showing pride in their graduating seniors, and letting them know they’re not forgotten.
More than 150 high schools in Washington joined in lighting up empty stadiums earlier this month. The #BeTheLightWA movement is part of a nationwide display of support for the class of 2020.
“Stay strong seniors, your future is bright,” said an April 19 post on Facebook from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, which included drone videos and photos of illuminated stadiums.
“We honored the students of the Class of 2020 by shining our lights brightly at our stadiums and around the community on April 17 at 8:20 p.m.,” said a Marysville School District news release with a photo of Quil Ceda Stadium’s lit-up scoreboard.
What about graduation?
It’s not yet clear how high schools will celebrate graduations.
“We’re going to do whatever is allowed. This means something to a lot of people,” said Balla, the Everett High principal, adding that his school and the district have worked to support the governor’s order “100 percent.”
Sequoia’s principal said teachers and other school staff miss students terribly, and are as sad as the kids about missing the end of the school year.
“Graduation, that is the best payday you get,” Shepherd said.
“We’re committed to figuring out how to do something to capture the moment in a unique way,” Shepherd said. She imagines the future, when this class may recall their 2020 graduation at a 30th reunion and say, “Remember? We were the first to do it that way.”
“I believe we’ll have a plan, something different to allow seniors and their families something to look back on,” Shepherd said. “At the end of this, they’ll come out with a unique experience, a hallmark event in their life.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kaitlyn Johnson, who contributed to this story, is a 16-year-old in 10th grade at Lake Stevens High School. She has a strong interest in journalism.
Correction: This story has been changed to reflect that the class of 2020 was born the same year as 9/11.