This time of year is typically one of hurried excitement for hundreds of teenagers and parents across Knox County. The final weeks of their senior year of high school are closing quicker than a steel trap.

The challenges brought about this year by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has upended everything seniors knew to expect for their final days in public education.

They expected to have the opportunity to go to Prom. They expected to play out their final season of baseball. And certainly not the least, they planned to gather with their fellow classmates in a gymnasium, adorned in a traditional cap and gown and all the pomp and circumstance one expects when celebrating the completion of their high school education. They expected to walk across the stage, shake hands with the superintendent and be handed their diploma, and set off into the late spring sunset looking toward an uncertain future that might involve college, trade school or a career.

Expectations have been smashed. There’s no easy way to say it. Students are struggling with the emotions of not getting to experience the very things they worked toward for years.

How will the future look? With limitations on people gatherings and social distancing guidelines, it’s impossible to continue, at this point, with a traditional ceremony. So, what will we do?

Surrounding school systems have announced plans for a virtual graduation, where students arrive in cap and gown, with their parents, and receive their diploma in a recorded, small ceremony, to be edited together into a larger collage to be shown later.

That certainly seems to be the best option for now, but, I can’t help but feel an emptiness for our seniors and all the work they’ve put in. Not to mention, the parents and grandparents who may be witnessing the first of their family to graduate from high school. There will be those families that, while their pride is ultimately still intact and justified, who will feel cheated because of the circumstances life has thrown our way.

Once the curve has flattened significantly and it’s safer to do so, I would hope our schools offer a celebration ceremony where students can come back if they wish and publicly celebrate their graduation together.

When someone graduates from college and says “I don’t plan on walking,” I get so mad. I truly get angry. They worked hard for the moment that many would love to experience for themselves. I always voice that frustration to them, as well, and some have changed their mind when they see it from someone else’s perspective.

I would hope that after this year, everyone will cherish things like walking in your graduation ceremony a little more and realize that next year, graduates might not have the option.

In the meantime, I hope our local school systems announce their plans soon. Nobody likes waiting in the lurch.

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Charles is a native of Barbourville, Kentucky. He has worked with The Mountain Advocate in various capacities since 2003.

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