For Summit County’s high school seniors, this spring has been anything but ideal. What should have been a semester full of senior nights, prom dances, graduation parties and final goodbyes was quickly overshadowed by a century-defining pandemic.
Losing these last months to strict public health orders, face covering mandates, a crumbling economy and series of cancellations is an experience that warrants emotions of grief and sadness, said Dr. George Brandt, a psychiatrist at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver.
“There are these rituals observed in life that add a certain meaning,” Brandt said. “How do you get hold of this piece that’s missing? What do you fill it up with?”
Brandt said he has noticed many of his teenage clients struggling with anxiety and depression since the pandemic began. For some, the switch to online learning and the sudden separation from friends and teachers hasn’t been easy.
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“For those that suffer from anxiety and depression, being in the home has initially felt secure and isolating,” Brandt said. “But they don’t know how to come back out.”
For some seniors, graduation’s cancellation is the culmination of all of the struggles of the past few months. It’s more important now than ever for parents and communities to celebrate their seniors, Brandt said.
Summit County’s community is doing just that. On Thursday, the Summit County Sheriff’s office hosted a parade on Breckenridge’s Main Street that brought together students, teachers and parents in a socially distant celebration.
The Summit High School Parent Teacher Student Organization is also hosting a drive-in ceremony for the class of 2020. On Saturday night, students will watch their virtual commencement from their cars parked at Airport Road Satellite Parking in Breckenridge. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the commencement video will start at 8 p.m.
Summit High School senior Jeremiah Vaille said the events have made this graduation feel special and unique.
“(These events are) different, but I think that’s a good thing,” Vaille said. “We’re the first class to really have this big parade for us. It’s actually really exciting for me now that it’s coming up today and this weekend that we’re getting these really big events.”
Vaille spent Thursday decorating his family’s cars for the parade and getting excited for the big events to come. While many aspects of the future are uncertain, Vaille said he’s still looking forward to studying civil and environmental engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, where he will also run cross country, in the fall. Vaille said the college still plans to have in-person classes, something he hopes doesn’t change.
“I’m hoping I get to have my normal first semester of college. Right now, I’m just looking forward to it as going back to normal life and figuring out college,” he said.
Senior Audrey Anderson said she initially felt excited about school being cancelled, but as more events moved virtual, she started to miss her friends and teachers.
“I realized there’s so many things about high school that I took for granted,” she said. “Just seeing people in school and seeing your teachers and having that support, even if you didn’t use it, it just being there.”
Anderson watched as her graduation, prom and final competition for speech and debate moved virtual, all events that she looked forward to since she was a freshman.
“You wait your turn all four years to be able to go to prom and have graduation and you watch all the other classes graduate,” she said. “It was just crazy to me thinking that we weren’t going to have that anymore.”
Anderson agreed with Vaille, however, that the graduation events made this year feel like one the community will never forget.
“We get to say that we’ve done things that no other class has,” she said.
Anderson is going on to study psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder. CU Boulder hasn’t canceled classes yet. Anderson, like Vaille, is hopeful she will have a normal freshman year of college.
Regardless of what the future holds, Brandt said the community’s efforts to celebrate its seniors are commendable and exactly what is needed in a time of heightened anxiety.
“Most of the kids seem to really appreciate the effort,” he said. “It’s not quite what they wanted, but people are certainly trying, and that seems to help a bit.”