May 29 was supposed to be Mound Westonka’s graduation, but as it seems everything these days is up in the air except for those tassled caps, the end of the school year is, so far, going out without a bang.
Most classes finished this week and all will have ended by June 2. The spring sports season won’t be wrapping up since it never did begin. No senior pranks. And prom hosted on Instagram and YouTube.
“It’s just a big hit on our senior year,” said Connor Prok, a senior at MWHS who tallied up the K–12 years of education before adding, “and then your senior spring is cut short.”
The district is still prioritizing having a live graduation ceremony, which, if Minnesota Department of Health guidelines allow, would likely be held June 25 at the high school’s Haddorff Field. If that, too, is canceled, the district will hold graduation either live or virtually July 23.
Even with social distancing, there are creative ways to hold a meaningful ceremony, said MWHS principal Mark McIlmoyle, who pointed to Holy Family in Victoria. Holy Family held a live graduation at its track May 20, having engineered a small platform that was wheeled out to the graduates: a walk across the stage, pandemic or not.
Students’ own college plans and the district’s fall plans—even its summer plans—are still in limbo as guidance from state agencies has been slow in coming and ever-changing.
The past two and a half months have been a ride for sure as schools everywhere put the test to online learning platforms like Schoology and SeeSaw and cancelled—or drastically altered—usual events like spring talent shows, School Spirit weeks and scholarship days while all the while leaving only a big question mark on the near and far future.
“There’s pockets of innovation connected to technology and the delivery of education, but it’s never stressed the system to pivot that quickly right across K-12,” said McIlmoyle, who described the days before Spring Break as ones where district staff put in their blood, sweat and tears to churn out a distance learning plan that would, hopefully, meet the students’ needs.
“We basically had five days to create our distance learning plan, communicate to families—and then knowing that our staff were going to be offline for the entire Spring Break and then hit the ground running the day after Spring Break.”
Seniors like Prok, deeply involved as president of MWHS’ Student Senate; and Amelia Proulx, an active member of DECA, the soccer and lacrosse teams and math league and who launched the RISE Westonka program for blended athletics this year, have tried to take the last weeks of their time at Mound Westonka in stride.
“They’re big milestones that you really anticipate and look forward to, kind of have planned out and are super excited for and it’s a little bit saddening when you can’t fulfill those dreams that you had,” said Proulx. “It’s definitely been an adjustment, but I’ve learned a lot about myself and my priorities and ultimately that you can’t control life and the way things you expect to pan out don’t actually end up happening in that way. It really just shows you the importance of what you have right now in the moment and the importance of being flexible and taking it day by day and week by week and just finding who you are in the process.”
Proulx joked that senior slide is definitely not happening for her.
Prok said he’s seen students in his grade across the country taking the situation positively, offering that “I think we’re all making the best out of what’s happening right now and that’s what I’m pretty proud of for my generation.”
The sudden adjustment in March to close schools was at first just something temporary: a two-week limit to the initial order that at the time had at least some possibility for schools to reopen before summer.
“Here they go away for Spring Break. They have no idea at that point that they’re not going to walk through the hallways of our building ever again as students,” said McIlmoyle of the senior class. “There’s some grief in that. Not the grief of losing someone, but there’s still the grieving, the loss, of many things, whether that’s their senior prom, whether that’s their senior sports season, whether that’s through just walking through the halls and having their countdown.”
For McIlmoyle, this year’s graduating class is the first he’s seen through all grades at MWHS, having started there as principal five years ago when these current seniors were coming in as eight-graders.
Now, he said these students are uniquely positioned as they leave behind a senior year that wasn’t and look forward to a freshman year that still holds uncertainty.
“The vision of the college start, moving into the dorm room, going away to the military, starting a new job, doing a gap year for travel—all of that they’re grieving because they don’t even know what that looks like. And right in the middle, at the fulcrum, is where our senior class is right now. They look to the left, they’re grieving what didn’t happen; they look to the right, and they don’t know what to think of the future.”