Class of 2020 seniors and parents face heartbreaking end to school year

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(WJHL)- High school is ending in a way Class of 2020 seniors and parents never pictured.

Students have already been out of the classroom for weeks due to COVID-19. But Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s Wednesday announcement that schools should remain closed for the rest of the academic year dashed the hopes of seniors around the Tri-Cities wishing for a more normal end to their high school careers.

“I’m really sad that I don’t get to come to school, and see my friends, and spend time with them in our last moments,” said Dobyns-Bennett senior Mikaylia Wilder.

Senior Mikaylia Wilder received her graduation cap and gown through a drive-through at Dobyns-Bennet on Thursday

Wilder was one of many seniors who drove up to Dobyns-Bennett on Thursday to receive her graduation cap and gown. Wearing masks and gloves, sales reps for graduation memorabilia company Jostens handed caps and gowns to seniors through car windows.

Parents and seniors picked up graduation attire at Dobyns-Bennett on Thursday

While 2020 seniors will still have proper graduate attire, something else has been taken away.

“Graduating with my friends. Walking the stage with them,” said DB senior Jacob Castle. “It kind of feels weird receiving my cap and gown, not walking the stage.”

Other seniors like University High School’s Anna Bader have prom dresses they’ll never get to wear.

University High School senior Anna Bader shows her prom dress on a video call with News Channel 11

But Anna is also an accomplished track athlete, and her father, Ryan, won’t get to watch her final season.

“The joy of getting to watch her do something she enjoys, and be with her friends. It’s the littler things I think I miss the most,” Ryan said.

Other parents like Blair Burgess, the mother of a Daniel Boone senior, are wondering how milestones like graduation will be made up. Burgess said she and her graduating son had not yet heard of any alternate plans for a graduation ceremony from the school.

Blair Burgess and son Hayden during last year’s prom

“It actually made me cry. Because that’s such a big accomplishment, you know?” said Burgess. “And not to be able to see him walk across the stage, it really is heartbreaking. And I know that’s how other parents feel too about their senior children.”

Multiple parents expressed worries that the accomplishments of their children over the last 13 years wouldn’t properly be recognized.

Jostens employees sported masks and gloves while handing out graduation attire

Ryan Bader said his family is facing conflicting feelings during this time.

“I think some people feel guilty feeling sad,” he said.

In the backdrop of a global pandemic, families like the Baders are learning to balance dissappointment with still feeling grateful for health and well-being.

“Whether it’s missed graduation, or even something small you’re missing out on,” said Ryan. “Just keeping those balances. Allowing yourself to feel sad, but also recognize we’ve still got a lot to be thankful for.”

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