If a person's senior year of high school is a movie, as today's teenagers like to say, the class of 2020's movie is playing out like a melancholy drama thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In-person classes have been canceled through the rest of the school year. Senior staples, like graduation and prom, are in jeopardy of being canceled and class trips will be rendered moot with nowhere to go. In Sarasota, seniors are trying to stay positive despite the circumstances, but as the pandemic shows little sign of slowing in time for these events to happen, reality is starting to set in.
Cardinal Mooney High senior Ruby McGregor has had her prom dress — "blue lace with sparkles, almost like a mermaid," she said — sitting in her closet since February. It cost her close to $500, she said. She wore it for a picture April 20, knowing it might be a while before she gets to put it on again.
"Not being able to go to my senior prom would be sad," McGregor said. "It's a tradition and it's not like you can return the dress. But at the same time, what can you do about it?"
McGregor said her parents and her friends' parents have had discussions about holding their own photo day once it is safe to do so, but it would be no substitute for the real thing. McGregor, who is planning to attend the University of Tampa in the fall, is feeling the separation from school more than she thought she would, even though Netflix shows like "Outer Banks" have been entertaining to binge.
Like prom, which is about the experience more than the dress, school for McGregor was a chance to interact with people she cares about, something she only realized once the opportunity for in-person contact was gone. She missed sitting with friends at a table in the back of the Mooney lunch room, where seniors typically take roost, and looking at everyone's faces.
"It's hard to think about the fact that we may have seen each other (in person) for the last time and we didn't even know it," McGregor said of her fellow seniors. "I still talk with my close friends every day. It's not the same, but I'm glad everyone is staying as safe as they can."
Sarasota High senior Blaise Freeman said he has spent four years thinking about graduation, working hard to achieve his goal of walking across a stage and taking his diploma in his hand. Potentially missing that experience, he said, would be rough. Fellow Sarasota senior Thomas Pack concurs.
"Everyone deserves to have a graduation, no matter the circumstances," Pack said. "That would be our last memory of high school. To me, it would mean I'm done here. I finished, and I can officially move on to college."
Pack will be attending Gardner-Webb University on a football scholarship. Before that happens, there are other things besides graduation on his mind, like going to Grad Bash at Universal Studios, a hallmark of the Florida high school senior experience. Grad Bash has been officially canceled, but there's a chance graduation could be held later in the summer, though no alternate date has been set for any school.
Riverview High senior Hannah Boggs has been reflecting on her high school career as a whole. Boggs moved to Sarasota from Maryland in January 2019. It did not take her long to find what she called "an amazing group of friends."
"It felt like home," Boggs said. "Everything just blossomed for me."
Boggs said she does not believe the pandemic will put a damper on how she views her high school experience. It may cancel some big events, she said, but it can't cancel the memories she has already made. Boggs, who will attend Lynn University on a lacrosse scholarship, is currently focused on finishing her school work (despite "senioritis" admittedly setting in) and checking on the well-being of her friends, especially their mental health. It's a rough time for everyone, Boggs said, and increases in stress can take a toll. Boggs said it is important to be mindful of that.
Of course, Boggs is still wistful for what might have been. She attended last year's graduation at the school's football stadium. She watched the 2019 seniors have their moment with family and friends in attendance. If things were normal, she said, she'd end her own graduation with a party at her house, reminiscing on the good times.
"Being a teen is a rocky road," Boggs said. "We all have ups and downs. We all overcome obstacles, whether that is handling school or dealing with family issues or something else. To me, graduation is not just the gratification of moving on, it's a milestone. You accomplished something. To have that taken away would be a shame."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.