Walden Grove senior student body president Clarisa Quezada had a lot to look forward to this year. Her title brings with it lots of responsibilities, including planning senior activities.

She had many events planned out already and as a member of yearbook had worked hard to capture the memories of the Class of '20. 

Life changed when the students got word that campuses would close due to the coronavirus.

“In the beginning, when it was first announced that we would have an extra week off, I got messages from a lot of seniors all asking, ‘What's the deal,’ ‘What's gonna happen,’ I was bombarded with questions,” she said. I try to calm them and overall, I’m trying to stay connected.”

Quezada said she knows seniors, including herself, were looking forward to celebrating the traditions of senior year and that walk across stage for graduation.

“I plan events so I don't usually get to enjoy them because I’m heading it, running stuff, I'm not just a participant, and this would have been the first time I would have gotten to actually just enjoy it,” she said. “I was supposed to speak (at graduation), so it would kind of be a bummer if I can't.”

 With the closure of state schools due to the coronavirus, thousands of high school seniors are waiting to find out what will happen with their graduation ceremonies.

Forming Plan B

Sahuarita Unified School District is trying to find ways to honor the accomplishments and culmination of their students’ educations. The district is working to get surveys out to students and families to come up with possible alternatives to a traditional ceremony.

SUSD Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said he knows not having a traditional ceremony is a “tough pill to swallow.”

“It’s really unfortunate this event has created such a disruption for America’s high school seniors during a time that’s supposed to be this culminating experience for all their years in elementary and secondary school,” he said. “What we’re dealing with is beyond anyone’s control, and first and foremost, our heart empathizes with our seniors and their families.”

Valenzuela said the district is committed to finding a way to honor graduates, though it won’t be the regularly scheduled ceremony. They are considering several options, but will first turn to parents and the student body through their survey to gauge what the community wants most.

“We’re asking for the voice and input of students, seniors and their families through a simple survey to find some of the possible options for this event celebrating our core of young men and women,” Valenzuela said. “We’ll look at all these considerations and hopefully within a week collect some data.”

The survey will include several options.

One option is a virtual graduation and the district is looking to online colleges to research how this could be done.

Another option would be to hold a traditional ceremony at a later date, though the timeline on that is uncertain.

The district is also considering a combination of those two, including a virtual graduation and a later physical ceremony.

The last option would be to do nothing additionally for graduation.

Quezada said she “lives” at school with all her extracurricular activities, so the transition has been difficult. She is opting for the delayed graduation ceremony.

“I hope that even if it's postponed, everyone can attend,” she said. “Even if it's something small we want to fulfill what we’ve been waiting for 12 years.”

Another Walden Grove student council senior, Hannah Beltran, said she knows the alternatives for graduation aren’t the same as a traditional ceremony, but hopes to get something close to it.

“I don’t think any of us expected that the day before Spring Break would be our last at school and all the ‘what ifs’ are hard,” she said. “I really hope graduation doesn’t get canceled and they delay it. Is it ideal, no, and some probably won’t be able to come back for it, but we want that ceremony we worked 12 years for.”

Beltran has been focusing on remaining positive.

“A lot of people are taking this time to be angry, and honestly, at a time I was angry too but this is a health concern,” she said. “It’s to save us so I’ve been trying to look on the bright side.”

One more time

Student body president Alexis Alvarado knows the senior class shares the desire to have a graduation ceremony.

“I want to be with my class one more time,” she said. “My friends feel the same way — that they don't get to do a lot of that last stuff, like the last day of high school, and most of them would like to get to walk. We’re bummed we don't get to do that.”

She’s also in favor of a delayed ceremony.

The Walden Grove student council is working to keep seniors’ spirits up. Quezada said she’s planning a senior video which will feature highlights, photos and seniors’ favorite memories of the year. She said there is also a wealth of social media groups of students from all backgrounds to keep connected.

Alvarado is partnering with other student body presidents across Arizona through an Instagram group called AZ Class of 2020. It's designed to help unify Arizona's high school seniors through motivational videos and activities. 

“It’s hard to lead the class and still be a leader while having to be at home,” she said. “We (the group) get messages out every day to get other schools involved and to do activities online, and it’s been great to see them all come together.”

Valenzuela believes they can make a determination of how to go forward with graduation by mid-April.

Students will still receive their diplomas and between now and the end of the year the district will develop a protocol of how to distribute them. At this point, they are looking at a drive-through system similar to the free meal program.

“There's something to be said about striving to get closure on the school experience to pursue the next chapter,” Valenzuela said. “It's an exciting new dawn for seniors and a part of closing out the first chapter of their lives through these traditional experiences and we’re trying to preserve this experience in the best way we can.”