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Prom canceled, graduation to be held virtually

Steamboat Springs High School's Class of 2019 walks across the football field before their graduation ceremony. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Class of 2020 will have to have a virtual graduation.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs High School class of 2020 won’t get to attend two seminal life events — prom and graduation — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stay at home orders and restrictions against large gatherings.

High school administrators announced last week prom will be canceled and graduation will be held virtually on the regularly scheduled date of May 30.

A social event, according to a letter sent home to families, is tentatively planned for August 7, so the class of 2020 and their families can celebrate graduation in person.

Prom will not be rescheduled.

“Everyone will not agree with this decision,” the letter acknowledged. “Students may be angry, upset or disappointed, and all of those feelings are justified. Yet, the simple act of not having prom may make more of an impact on our lives and community than any prom ever has. It will keep our family and friends safe and well.”

Part of making those decisions now was giving students and their families some answers, said assisstant principal Dennis Alt. There has been a lot of anxiety and uncertainty around graduation, he said, and some decisions needed to be made, without that decision being then changed over and over.

Among three Steamboat seniors interviewed, they said they completely understand why they can’t have a prom and can’t have a regular graduation. They have been adhering to the social distancing measures and haven’t seen their friends in person in more than a month. But it is still “a bummer,” they all said, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling deeply disappointed.

“Graduation being put online is heartbreaking,” said senior Jess Diehl. “Seniors work incredibly hard throughout their entire school careers. It’s not the same thing. It doesn’t mean anywhere near as much to get a diploma online.”

Sticking with the May 30 date, Alt said, was a decision made to “create a graduation that the most possible people can participate in.” If it were delayed, they know a number of students wouldn’t be able to attend, Alt said.

“We empathize with the seniors,” said Athletic Director/Assistant Principal Luke DeWolfe. “And want nothing more than for them to have the best ceremony and experience we can give them. We realize they have lost a lot through the course of this.”

For senior James Bernsten, the event marks the culmination of years of hard work.

“It is a celebration of finishing high school,” he said, “and the ending of a chapter of our lives. We’ve grown up with the same group of kids, in the same community, and have formed strong bonds.” That ceremony, he said, was a chance for everyone to be together to mark the milestone.

Senior Jacy Werner grew up attending the graduation ceremonies of his older siblings.

“It’s one of those things everyone looks forward to,” he said.

For Werner, it represents closure and “taking a step from one section of life to another.” It was also going to be a chance to say goodbye to the “peers we’ve spent a huge chunk of our lives with.”

Administrators are still holding a sliver of hope something in person could take place on May 30.

“Of course, if a drastic change of circumstances permits us to host a live graduation on May 30, we will do so, and the August event will not be necessary,” they said. “Please note that, if we are not able to host a live graduation, we will not condone or organize any type of event that will cause people to gather or defy stay-at-home orders. I know that this is difficult news; it is normal and healthy to struggle with changes to events that we have looked forward to for so long.”

Graduation parties are also canceled. Bernsten has family who planned to come from Seattle, New Jersey and New Mexico, and he’s sad to be missing that gathering.

“Everyone is there to support you as you embark on a new journey in life,” he said

Diehl and Werner also had family planning to come from across the country and state.

“We will have the virtual graduation,” Bernsten said. “But it won’t feel like graduation.”

Part of that involves the numerous events leading up to the big day, he said — senior day, the slide show, the barbeque. Everything has been canceled.

In terms of the August event, Bernsten said he’d rather wait and do graduation then.

“I’d rather have a live event. It would mean a lot more,” he said.

Diehl said “Under the circumstances that’s the best we get, and I’m grateful for that.”

Alt said he will be working with the class officers to make the August event exactly what they want — whether they walk across a stage in cap and gown during a formal ceremony or whether it is more of an informal social gathering.

This week, many seniors planned to spend their spring break in Mexico.

“It was really important for us,” said Bernsten, “to have that last trip before college and before we all go in our separate directions.”

Bernsten was working at a local restaurant to earn money for a trip to Europe in July. He’s no longer working and doesn’t yet know whether that trip will happen.

Among his friend group, “We’ve never wished we could go to school,” Bernsten said. Now, “We wish for school.”

A self-described, routine-oriented person, Diehl said it has been the loss of that routine that has been the most challenging.

“It’s frustrating the longer it keeps going on,” he said. “We are just trying to hold on to the hope we might have a normal-ish summer.”

As they make plans for college, there is still uncertainly for many around that. Some colleges aren’t enrolling students for the fall, instead asking them to wait until spring.

As far as silver linings, all three seniors said they’ve become closer with their families and have appreciated that extra time together.

“That’s definiltey the best thing to come out of this,” Diehl said.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.


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