‘I wasn’t ready to say goodbye’: Lawrence’s high school seniors faced with sudden ending to their final year

photo by: Sami Turner

Lawrence High School senior Sami Turner took this selfie with the school newspaper staff after they found out they were finalists in the National Scholastic Press Association's Pacemaker competition.

Nyasha McVay’s friends were showing her what dresses they were going to wear to prom. She was still just trying to decide on a color.

But that was before the spreading coronavirus prompted the governor to close Kansas’ schools for the rest of the school year, and before Lawrence’s high school seniors found out what they thought was an ordinary school day was in actuality their last.

“We basically walked out of high school for the last time without really knowing,” said McVay, a senior at Free State High School. “I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, when I didn’t even know I had to say goodbye.”

In a matter of weeks, Lawrence’s high school seniors went from eagerly anticipating spring break, to being slightly “bummed” to hear it would be extended because of the virus, to finding out they will now miss out on long-awaited traditions such as senior skip day, senior week, prom and graduation.

“I sort of feel like myself and my classmates are being robbed of experiences and traditions that we have been looking forward to and are a part of growing up,” said Emmeline Schneider, a senior at Lawrence High School.

Now, Schneider admits, growing up is taking a different form: learning to adapt to the quickly changing world around her.

The Lawrence school district is currently working to implement a “continuous learning” plan for students that will begin on March 30, according to a news release that came out Tuesday night, following Gov. Laura Kelly’s announcement of the school closings. Some students remain hopeful that graduation ceremonies and other traditions such as prom may be rescheduled to a later date sometime in the summer.

photo by: Sami Turner

Lawrence High School senior Sami Turner, top right, hangs out with her friends virtually through Zoom on Tuesday during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sami Turner, an LHS senior and co-president of the student body, said she cried over the phone with her friends after they found out the news.

Because of a renovation project currently underway at the school, Turner noted that she “won’t be able to walk the same halls ever again.” She also especially feels for her friends who are foreign exchange students, who are currently making plans to return home and “have to leave without a goodbye.”

But Turner, among other Lawrence high school seniors, is trying to find a silver lining on an otherwise saddening situation.

“I think there’s always light at the end of a tunnel. It just depends on how long that tunnel is,” she said.

Angela Young, a senior at LHS, said she is now spending more time with family, and more time with herself. She’s been able to reflect on the relationships in her life, and recognize her family’s good fortune.

“We have the resources to be able to be in a quarantine situation,” she said. “We have the resources to get really good health care if we need it.”

photo by: Contributed Photo

Lawrence High School senior Angela Young, center, with her parents Roura and Bryan Young after senior night for the marching band.

McVay, the senior from Free State, also said she appreciates getting to spend more time with her family. She usually goes from school to a sports practice or game. Now, she said she’s playing more board games with her family than ever before.

High school seniors who plan to go to college are looking forward to continuing their education in a different setting. But some fear the shift to online learning will leave them less college-ready.

Matthew Brandenburger, a Free State senior, said he is currently in a few Advanced Placement courses, and that if exams are still administered at the end of the year, he doesn’t see himself doing well on them.

photo by: Contributed Photo

Lawrence Free State High School senior Matthew Brandenburger is pictured debating at Washburn Rural High School.

Young also fears what might happen with the Advanced Placement exams, noting that it would really affect her if she is unable to take them, “because that’s a lot of college credit right there.”

For one senior who’s not sure if she’ll attend college, graduation might be her “only shot to put on a cap and gown.”

Bella Counts graduated in January from LHS by doing a diploma completion program. She said high school was tough for her because of mental health issues, and that she’s been looking forward to graduating since her first year. She was planning on walking in the graduation ceremony.

“That was kind of going to be my recognition of, like, ‘I did it,'” she said.

The coronavirus derailed many seniors’ plans and anticipations for the spring semester.

Brandenburger was preparing a graduation speech, hoping he might get chosen to speak. McVay was looking forward to track season. Schneider was planning to compete in state ensemble contests with the school orchestra.

photo by: Contributed Photo

Lawrence Free State High School senior Hugh Sidabutar, center, takes a photo with friends after their most recent choir concert.

Young will miss the jewelry-making class she was taking at school. She doesn’t have the materials to continue the trade at home. At first, the news of school cancellations really upset her. But her second thought, she said, was that some people have it a lot worse.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization reported over 190,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide and over 7,800 deaths. In the United States, there were over 10,000 cases as of Thursday at noon, and 150 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/

What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVID-19@ks.gov or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.


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