The Freeman High School students who witnessed a school shooting as sophomores are once again being forced to grow up too fast

Graduation Issue

Senior year milestones are supposed to be fairy-tale moments: a montage of beautiful prom dresses, state track meets and senior-ditch-day lake trips, all climaxing with the weird gowns, stiff hats and long speeches at graduation.

For the class of 2020, these milestones are just fairy tales.

Part of growing up is realizing that life isn't always a fairy tale. If you are a senior right now, you know what this realization feels like, and it feels remarkably similar to disappointment. I spent my last day at Freeman High School hugging my friends, dancing around the multipurpose room for a make-shift Sadie Hawkins dance, and sharing tears while Thomas Rhett's country ballad, "Remember You Young" played in the background.

I was optimistic. We would be back in a few weeks, I told my friends. We would get another goodbye — a real goodbye. This wasn't the end for the class of 2020.

I was wrong.

That random Monday in March was my last day. I watched TV newscasters squash the senior year cliches I'd dreamed about with two words: "Canceled Indefinitely."

From then on, our messages of hope would be texted instead of spoken. Laughter would be shared over video calls instead of being accompanied by hugs. Our fairy tale would only be experienced over a distance.

I thought we'd get at least a month of in-person school, half of a spring sports season, a real prom, a normal graduation ceremony. I watched these dreams get canceled one by one, Technicolor expectations fading to gray disappointment.

We graduated, apparently. No parties. No "Pomp and Circumstance." We got an abrupt invitation, delivered without ceremony: Welcome to the real world.

Congratulations, I guess?

Graduation was supposed to be a formal goodbye. We planned to sit in chairs, listening to speeches about our future, watching slideshows of the memories made in high school. It is a ceremony of closure, granting us a goodbye to high school and a hello to the new life ahead of us.

The ceremony softens the scary moment seniors will face after they accept the diploma and cross the stage into a new chapter; many of us fear the transition from dependence on parents and teachers to navigating the harsh real world alone.

My graduating class at Freeman knows too well what it's like to be forced to grow up too fast.

We witnessed a school shooting as sophomores. Our shelter had been shattered. The harsh world that adults tried desperately to hide from us as children was suddenly blinding us. The students all shared tears, shared anger, shared a loss of innocence that our families never experienced and couldn't fully relate to.

Our minds frantically processed the pain propelling us into adulthood.

Though we experienced grief, fear, confusion and undeniable pain, we also shared newfound strength and mindfulness we didn't know we possessed as 15 and 16-year-olds. We got through by relying on each other's strengths. A unique beauty emerged as we encouraged and helped heal one another. We answered this trial with resilience. Shared resilience is powerful. It creates abundant hope. And hope can be contagious, too.

Now seniors around the world need that resilience more than ever. Seniors share this moment of grief for a closure that feels necessary. While the class of 2020 doesn't get a goodbye to their four-year chapter, and we wish for nothing more than to be with one another, we look for the beauty in new types of shared moments. We accept five-hour video calls. We accept a prom and a senior parade where we never leave our cars. We choose to accept this challenge and make the most of it.

Even though we grieve a loss of iconic moments, we eagerly anticipate the moment when we can hug and laugh together as a class again. That, too, is a moment worthy of fairy tales. ♦

Fresh Perspective @ Art Spirit Gallery

Through Oct. 3, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
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