MUHS graduates reflect on their senior year

MIDDLEBURY — Commencement ceremonies for the Middlebury Union High School class of 2020 on June 13 were unprecedented — not for being wild and ostentatious, but for being minimalist out of necessity. Due to social distancing requirements during COVID-19, each of the 131 graduating seniors were individually driven to a stage at MUHS, where they picked up their hard-earned diplomas.
No teeming crowd, no group hugs, no conventional processional.
But the lack of pomp and circumstance didn’t diminish the sense of pride and accomplishment that each graduate felt upon capping a high school career that was far from ordinary.
In late May, the Independent reached out to several MUHS seniors to get some of their reflections on what has been a tumultuous spring semester, one characterized by distance learning, no team sports and no prom. But they know they’ll leave an indelible mark in the history of MUHS as having been a class that confronted — and overcame — a worldwide pandemic.
Here are some thoughts from four members of the MUHS Class of 2020:

How disappointed are you that you won’t be able to enjoy a “conventional” graduation, shoulder-to-shoulder with your classmates, friends and family?
It’s certainly a shame that the kind of unified graduation that seniors normally have is not workable in light of the pandemic, as it provides a kind of academic and social closure that we now might not have. However, I think reading the news puts everything into perspective. The tragedy that COVID-19 has already caused is far too great to justify unnecessary risk at this point. I really appreciate the work the school has put into creating a safe alternative that still honors as many of the graduation traditions as possible.
Are you still hoping for a prom?
The short answer is, not really. I think if the school is able to organize one, it will be quite far in the future, and many of my classmates will realistically be unable to attend. I think that prom will likely be replaced with smaller social events among friends once social distancing restrictions are lifted.
Were you counting on playing in spring sports before COVID-19 arrived?
Yes, I was planning on playing Ultimate Frisbee, and I know for a lot of people the loss of a final season with their athletic communities has come as a blow. In addition, many other programs, such as music festivals (such as the New England Music Festival) and the MUHS Senior Play, have been canceled. However, like I said, continuing these activities is in no way worth putting our community in danger.

How disappointed are you that you won’t be able to enjoy a “conventional” graduation, shoulder-to-shoulder with your classmates, friends and family?
I’m really disappointed about graduation because we as seniors and our parents, friends and family have looked forward to and worked for this day for the last 12 years; just to have it ripped away from us. This is a big moment in our lives and now we really need to make it memorable for ourselves. 
Are you still hoping for a prom?
I am not really concerned about having a prom. It would have been nice to experience all of the senior activities like project grad and the senior picnic, but prom isn’t high on my list of priorities. Hopefully we can do something as a class before we all go our separate paths. 
Were you counting on playing in spring sports before COVID-19 arrived?
Yes, I was really looking forward to my last season playing with many of my teammates for a long time, and I have been coached by Polly for many years. Softball is my number one sport of choice and to find out that there would be no season was more upsetting to me then no prom or our other senior activities. If we could just have our sports it would put a little excitement in the lives of not only us — the athletes — but our family, friends and fans that enjoy watching us play. A lot of joy has been taken from us and our families during what should be a memorable time in our lives. 

How disappointed are you that you won’t be able to enjoy a “conventional” graduation, shoulder-to-shoulder with your classmates, friends and family?
Having a graduation with all my family and friends in attendance would have great and enjoyable but the end result is what matters the most to me getting my diploma and moving on to the next step in my educational career (Suffolk University) is what’s excites me the most.
Are you still hoping for a prom?
Having a senior prom would have been exciting but I believe that my class will put on something of that sort in the near future so I’m not disappointed.
Were you counting on playing in spring sports before COVID-19 arrived?
I was not counting on playing a spring sport but I was planning on attending the games.

Olson is a track-and-field athlete, specializing in the 800 and 1,500 meter running distances. She said the absence of spring sports has been “devastating for some students,” and that it will leave many with a sense of unfulfilled goals on the athletic fields. Just as students strive to improve their grades steadily between their freshman and senior years, student-athletes persevere to record faster times or more team wins from year to year.
While Olson will continue to compete in college, she knows other MUHS grads might not get that chance. So the spring 2020 semester will have been their last time to shine on the sports field or track.
A drive-up graduation, while necessary, won’t be as intimate and satisfying as a “normal” commencement with crowds, Olson acknowledged. She said some members of the class of 2020 had asked MUHS administrators to postpone the ceremony until August in hopes of having a COVID-free environment, but that request didn’t fly.
“Graduation is when you say your final thank yous,” Olson said.
“It’s less about getting a diploma,” she continued, noting graduating students earned that distinction after their last assignments were graded.
“(Graduation) is more about getting together with the community of the Class of 2020 one last time.”
Olson doesn’t believe a prom can be salvaged at this point. She’s pleased to have had the junior prom experience, however. She’s more disappointed about not having had a chance to perform in the MUHS spring play, “Mary Poppins.”
“We were one-and-a-half weeks from opening night,” she said.

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