Coronavirus creates uncertainty for graduations, proms

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They worked for four years to get to this moment.

And now a global pandemic – something that perhaps never crossed their minds as a possibility – is upending a crucial moment in their lives.

For high school seniors, coronavirus has thrown a wrench into plans for graduations, proms and other rites of passage.

On Friday, March 13, virtually all local school districts announced they would cancel classes in an attempt to stop coronavirus cases from increasing exponentially. Most districts had plans to reopen campuses between the end of March and early- to mid-April, though in Riverside County reopening dates were pushed back to April 30 by the county health office. Then, Tuesday, March 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he wasn’t sure if public schools would reopen at all before the next academic year, though he issued no official order.

Many school districts in the region said they would await guidance from county health officials or from the state before making a final decision on postponing graduations, proms and other senior events, but Newsom’s announcement raised into question whether it was likely at all that senior activities would go as planned.

“We’ve worked so hard for four years to raise the money to have a nice prom, and then they just cancel it,” Lydia Adams, student body president and senior at Hamilton High School in Anza, said. “It sucks. It really sucks.”

Adams said prom, which had been scheduled for April 18, is for sure a no-go. She said the school hasn’t given seniors a final word on graduation and their grad night at Disneyland, but she expects those will be canceled soon enough.

It’s about the same story for Seth Brown, a senior at Murrieta Valley High School. The school so far has conveyed that graduation and prom are postponed, he said, but he thinks it’s unlikely they will happen.

“I’m actually pretty sad because I don’t get to graduate with my friends, I don’t get to go to any dances with my friends,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to push through.”

Allison Blumenthal, student government senior secretary at Great Oak High School in Temecula, said students there haven’t heard anything about graduation, either, and have only gotten a little bit of news about prom – bad news, at that.

“We do know that our venue is closed indefinitely,” Blumenthal said Saturday, March 22. “We haven’t heard anything about if they’re moving it, or if it’s canceled.”

But, given California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement of a statewide stay-at-home order March 17 and the ever-increasing number of coronavirus cases in the region, it’s unlikely that either prom or graduation will go on.

Another event Great Oak seniors were looking forward to, Blumenthal said, is their senior walk of gratitude – in which seniors don their caps and gowns and visit their respective elementary and middle school campuses, before finally returning to their high school, to say goodbye.

“We’re really sad and, I don’t know – we just want to be back at school,” Blumenthal said. “We worked for all these years to get to this point and now to have everything so unknown … it just hits everyone really hard.”

Christian Heredia, a senior at Fallbrook High School, said he, too, expects plans for graduation, grad night and prom to be scrapped, although his school hasn’t said one way or the other what will happen yet.

“The worst part about it is, it’s out of our control,” Heredia said. “We’re missing out on these life experiences that everyone else kind of got, but we’re not gonna get due to something beyond our control. There’s just nothing we can do.”

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.