As COVID-19 closes classrooms, ETHS seniors miss high school milestones

Lauren McCaffrey, Reporter

The vibrant lights of the Evanston Township High School football stadium shone as photos of faculty members and seniors flashed on the scoreboard. As cars drove by, they honked their horns. Residents across the city turned their front porch lights on to recognize the graduating senior in their household.

But this wasn’t a one-time occurrence. It’s happened every Friday for the past few weeks at 8:20 p.m. — 20:20 in military time, to commemorate the class of 2020.

This is just one of the ways ETHS is celebrating its seniors after Gov. J.B. Pritzker suspended in-person instruction across Illinois schools through the remainder of the academic year. Due to the cancellations, ETHS seniors might miss out on two major high school milestones: senior prom and graduation.

David Allen, an ETHS history and social sciences teacher, said his students need support now more than ever.

A father to a high school senior himself, Allen said the pandemic and social distancing measures pose unique challenges for students. At a time when high school seniors should be able to relax and enjoy their last months together, he said, they’re worrying about the future.

“I don’t think anyone’s doing really well with this,” Allen said. “I don’t think you can avoid it. I think home confinement is challenging… especially for seniors.”

ETHS senior Jack Rutstein, who committed to DePauw University for cross-country and track and field, said the school has gone out of its way to honor the senior class.

But the class is still missing out on serious milestones, Rutstein said. At the moment, prom has not been canceled, just postponed. Rutstein said he anticipates it will ultimately be canceled.

“It’s a staple — prom and graduation, every class has it,” Rutstein said. “And we don’t get it. Prom is definitely a bummer. My friends and I — we all had dates and we had already planned stuff. It’s a great way to just wrap it all up and have fun.”

Since the school doesn’t host a junior prom, senior prom is a highly anticipated event at ETHS, Weinberg freshman and ETHS alumna Louisa Ummel said.

Additionally, Ummel said every year, a newspaper edition is dedicated to the senior class, including promposal pictures and senior class future plans.

“As a lifelong experience, it’s definitely nice to look back at,” Ummel said. “I’m really glad that I had a graduation ceremony. I think that they are all going to miss that opportunity, and I feel bad for them. I don’t think a virtual graduation lives up to the standard.”

ETHS will hold a virtual graduation on May 24. Allen said although the seniors’ last day is about two weeks away, and they can see the “light at the end of their school tunnel,” there is no actual experience for the class to reflect on the culmination of their high school years.

Rutstein said the last few months of senior year bring some of the most exciting events of high school. It’s a chance for the seniors to focus on their last months together, he said.

“All the classes of 2020 are in it together,” Rutstein said. “We’re in the same boat. Hopefully, life goes on eventually and we’ll all look back and relate to each other. We’re not uniting in person, but we’re uniting in the sense that we didn’t have this, but life goes on.”

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Twitter: @LaurenKMcCaf

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