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High school seniors mourn loss of final school days

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The sign at Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp notifies passersby that the campus is closed.

Unfinished sports seasons.

Unsaid goodbyes.

Unkempt hair in senior photos.

It has been an unprecedented end to a school year for the class of 2020. Among the many hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the ubiquitous tragedy of milestones passing in isolation.

For high school seniors, spring 2020 should have been a season for breaking track records, producing musicals and accepting well-earned awards – a time to tie up loose ends and finish strong. Commencement ceremonies were planned for May and June, along with trips and parties to celebrate four years of growing together.

Now, under the mandates of state and local officials, students must spend their final school days apart. And despite a valiant effort from teachers to provide academic normalcy through the realm of online instruction, faces on a screen can’t replace the heady shared significance of a waning high school career.

“It’s a difficult pill to swallow,” Bret Harte Union High School District Superintendent Mike Chimente told the Enterprise. “Not only to not be able to compete but also to complete.”

The superintendent has promised seniors at Bret Harte High School a commencement and scholarship ceremony, as well as a senior graduation party and possibly even a trip to Disneyland. But it’s too soon to say when those might happen.

“We’re going to try, once we can, to create a celebration for our seniors, because it’s truly the right thing to do,” Chimente said.

At Calaveras High School, there are also hopes for a commencement ceremony and a rescheduled prom.

“But this is all dependent upon when the stay-at-home order is lifted, when social distancing criteria is lifted,” Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell said. “There is no way to exactly replicate the time and experiences they are losing, but we aim to try to mitigate these losses as best as we can.”

One such loss has been the postponement of Calaveras High School’s spring production of “Oklahoma,” which has been in the works since January, with a cast and crew of almost 60 students. On the final day of school on March 13, the cast wiped away their tears, put on their costumes and walked the campus during lunch, singing songs from the musical to entertain their fellow students.

“It was, hands down, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a teacher,” drama instructor Ann Mazzaferro said of delivering the bad news to her students. “The kids were heartbroken. They worked so hard and were so close to seeing their work and dreams realized.”

Mazzaferro is adamant that the production has not been canceled but rather postponed to an undetermined date. The students have remained committed to the show and continue to meet via Google Classroom to run lines and practice choreography. Mazzaferro said their virtual interactions have helped maintain a sense of community during the past few difficult weeks.

“These students didn’t just build a show; they built a family, and families need each other most when times are hard,” she said. “I’m so unbelievably proud of them.”

Video

Bret Harte High School seniors participate in the "Dear Class of 2020" video, produced by student Lili Tudbury. 

For some students, boredom and isolation have acted as a catalyst for creativity. One Bret Harte senior decided to take on her first video production and, with the help of about 50 other seniors, created a project to commemorate the class of 2020.

Lili Tudbury, 17, was inspired by another video made by a senior class in Arizona while she was stuck at home in Murphys.

“It was just hard knowing that Friday the 13th would be the last time we would all see each other,” Tudbury said. “I’m sad about missing out on all the fun things that we were going to do, because it’s something we’ve all been looking forward to all four years.”

With that in mind, she wrote a script titled “Dear Class of 2020” and sent out emails to the entire Bret Harte senior class, asking students to read and record a portion of the script from their own homes. It took Tudbury about a week to splice together the clips into a four-minute-long video.

Since airing on YouTube on April 7, “Dear Class of 2020” has garnered almost 3,000 views and an enthusiastic reaction from the public. The video highlights other national tragedies weathered by the young generation and their ability to persevere into a brighter future.

Tudbury doesn’t yet know what she plans to study when she attends Columbia College in the fall, but she says she’s already received job offers to produce more videos. And although the abrupt end to the school year has robbed her of important moments, such as showing her prized lambs at the fair through FFA, she has chosen to remain optimistic.

“I thought I would end on a good note, with just how (the video) brings everybody together and shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Tudbury said.

Bret Harte valedictorian Kiana Harker and salutatorian Luvdeep Kaur have also offered words of encouragement to their peers, as they are uncertain of when or if they will be able to fulfill their hard-won privilege of delivering a speech at commencement.

“None of us could have predicted that this is how our senior year would turn out,” the two friends wrote. “Nonetheless, we can recount the good memories that we made together and be proud of our accomplishments. Stay strong, and we can get through this.”

NEXT UP: Enterprise sports editor Guy Dossi pays tribute to Bret Harte High School's senior athletes.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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