Seniors went into the fall semester of 2019 with many hopes and expectations of how their final year of high school would go, but many of those expectations have been dashed by the global COVID-19 Pandemic.
“The main thing that I was looking forward to starting my senior year was finishing up my schooling with the stepping stones in place to leave Haywood County with a strong plan,” said Tuscola High senior Aidan McCoy-Ybanez. “I was doing the automotive program at Haywood Community College while still at Tuscola to get a head start as soon as I graduate.”
Despite all the uncertainty the pandemic has brought about, Ybanez said his future still looks the same. The only difference is he hasn’t set foot in the classroom since mid-March and senior activities like Senior Day, prom and graduation ceremonies were canceled. He said some of his peers have been extremely disappointed in losing these traditional experiences, but he’s keeping it in perspective.
“I am not disappointed about prom or graduation at all. Both are things that are truly unnecessary and will just put hundreds of people in danger. The important thing right now is the safety of our community, not outdated ceremonies,” he said. “At the end of day, the only thing that matters is the diploma that the seniors are still being gifted after not having to finish their second semester of this year.”
Ybanez said he’s done his best to be responsible with the current pandemic situation and follow the social distancing rules set in place. With many family members at risk of COVID-19 complications, he’s been more concerned about their safety as opposed to thinking about what he might be missing out on as a high school senior. He’s also been a bit disappointed at how some of his peers have reacted to the cancellations.
“I notice some of my peers feel the same and are doing their part but there are also plenty that believe it is all nonsense and that they aren’t getting what they want out of it,” he said. “There seems to be a sense of entitlement and the want to be spoiled with some of my classmates. With the 3.7 million students expected to graduate this school year, it is unreasonable to want to put any of those children at risk.”
A petition has been circulating online from seniors demanding a real graduation ceremony in the near future, claiming a drive-thru service isn’t enough. Ybanez doesn’t agree with that stance. To him, it seems a bit selfish to be worrying about a graduation ceremony when it would put so many people at risk.
Other seniors have found other ways to celebrate the major milestone without a proper graduation commencement ceremony — donning their cap and gown in their front yards for pictures and still dressing up in their prom dresses and tuxes to take pictures at Lake Junaluska.
Another important event canceled for seniors was the Partners in Education Scholarship Banquet hosted by the Haywood County Schools Foundation. During this annual ceremony, seniors are awarded community scholarships to assist them in their college education. Scholarships were still awarded this year, but the ceremony was canceled.
A Facebook page called “Adopt a Tuscola High School Senior” was created as a way for community members to show love and support for seniors by sending a letter, card, gift, gift certificate, snack or anything else to let them know the community cares.
Stil, Ybanez is more focused on his future than trying to celebrate his high school days.
“I don’t have any plans to try and commemorate the things that are being missed, I’m still getting my high school diploma and that’s all I care about,” he said. “The biggest thing I’m looking forward to in my life after graduation is moving away from Haywood County to see what more areas are like. It’s a beautiful place but the world holds so much more. I have been taking automotive classes for a few years now and that is leading me to a career in mechanics.”