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 From left, Clawson High School seniors Dorena Younan, Alyssa Johnson, Jada Rogers and Amber Ellerby hold a banner created by Clawson High School senior Greta Fobare.

From left, Clawson High School seniors Dorena Younan, Alyssa Johnson, Jada Rogers and Amber Ellerby hold a banner created by Clawson High School senior Greta Fobare.

Photo provided by Megan Homanick

COVID-19 cancels, reconfigures high school senior year milestones

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 23, 2020

 Royal Oak High School senior Zoe Rosario, 17, of Royal Oak, stands in front of her elementary school — Oakland Elementary — in her cap and gown.

Royal Oak High School senior Zoe Rosario, 17, of Royal Oak, stands in front of her elementary school — Oakland Elementary — in her cap and gown.

Photo provided by Lisa Swartz


ROYAL OAK/CLAWSON — The high school graduating class of 2020 likely will never forget their last months of high school.

With the decision to discontinue in-person education, sports and events in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school seniors lost the opportunity to attend proms, traditional commencement ceremonies, and hug teachers and classmates farewell.

Clawson High School Principal Billy Shellenbarger said the abrupt decision to discontinue classes and develop virtual education content took place within approximately 48 hours. Since the district already utilized the digital education platform Google Classroom, most students and teachers were familiar with online learning.

“The transition has been tough, but we have the type of staff that could do as good a job as they could do, and I’m very proud of them to be able to make that transition quickly,” he said.

Shellenbarger said he reached out to Clawson Public Schools Superintendent Tim Wilson within those 48 hours to discuss how the district could ensure that high school seniors, many of whom have grown up in the district looking forward to senior events, could experience some semblance of normalcy.

The district held a clap-out and drive-thru parade for seniors at Clawson High School, escorted by the Clawson Police Department, and all seniors will have the opportunity to participate in socially distanced commencement activities at Clawson City Park June 26 and 27.

“We’ll have a large LED screen set up, seniors will be able to have nine family members present, and we’ll have a photographer and videographer. It will also be livestreamed,” Shellenbarger said. “It’ll take about seven hours in two days, but we could not be more excited to be doing it and giving our seniors a chance to put on a cap and gown.”

Shellenbarger said the district recently distributed caps and gowns, yearbooks, and yard signs for its top 10 valedictorians and salutatorians. It also printed and hung large vinyl banners of each of its more than 120 seniors.

“We’re trying to stack up as many things for seniors as we can,” he said. “The class of 2020 are great kids and will live in infamy forever because of this pandemic, but they deserve as much as anyone else and more. We love ’em.”

Royal Oak High School held a parent-sponsored senior cruise for graduating seniors on May 29. Each family was allowed one decorated car, and seniors were encouraged to wear their caps and gowns.

Royal Oak High School Principal Michael Giromini issued a prepared statement in response to a request for comment: “The Senior Cruise was a great opportunity to celebrate the Class of 2020 in a way they truly deserve. It was rewarding to see how excited the students (and) their families were, and I appreciate the parents who assisted with planning and the Royal Oak Police Department for their support.”

Giromini said May 29 was the originally planned graduation date, and while the district could not hold the official event, he was glad it was able to do something special to recognize the graduating seniors.

“We’re looking forward to a more formal graduation event at the end of June; our students have been clear that they want an event that is as in-person as possible, so that’s our focus right now,” he continued in his statement.

An invitation-only outdoor Royal Oak High School graduation ceremony will take place June 29, according to a June 19 community update from Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Mary Beth Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick said more details will be sent to students and families.

On June 17, Fitzpatrick said, an outdoor ceremony was held for nearly 40 graduates who completed their high school diploma at Churchill Community Education Center.

Royal Oak High School senior Zoe Rosario said the first month of quarantine was especially difficult. Her life went from full throttle to a full stop in a matter of days.

Rosario was president of the teen community service Interact Club and was involved with the Model United Nations club, drama club, the choir program, student newsmagazine Acorn and the student-run cafe.

From 14-hour school days to quarantine with her family, the transition took some getting used to, but Rosario said she had more time to write scholarship essays. She plans to attend the Honors College at Oakland University and pursue a career as a high school history teacher.

Another scare came when her mother came down with a mild case of COVID-19 and quarantined herself outside their home, but Rosario said all is well now.

While some of her end-of-year extracurricular events were held virtually, she said she was disappointed that others were canceled. She had already purchased her prom dress and determined her date and the group with whom she would attend the dance, but she was grateful for the opportunity to make it to prom last year.

“It was rough because you had just been looking forward for these things for the past four years, and you schedule certain things so you can do certain things in senior year instead of making grades such a priority,” Rosario said.

However, she said she has been making the most of the extra time by learning how to cook and maintaining video chats with her friends. She also penned her closing speech for the virtual high school honors convocation.

“The last three months have taken a lot away from us, but we’ve already had three years to prove all the things we can do,” Rosario said. “We’re going to do great things. The sky’s the limit for the class of 2020, and a lot of my peers have definitely been innovative over the past few months.”

She said she refuses to let the pandemic ruin her high school experience and has confidence her peers will take the reins of the situation and come out stronger.

Royal Oak High School senior Brandon Swartz said he was initially disappointed that his plans to travel to Florida for spring break were canceled and that implications of the pandemic did not seem real for a time.

He said teachers posted assignments on Google Classroom and he worked on schoolwork for approximately an hour or two per day, but that the lacrosse season ended after the first three days of tryouts.

“It would have been my last year of playing lacrosse,” Swartz said. “I tried to keep myself busy with new hobbies and kept playing lacrosse in the backyard.”

He said he enjoyed the senior cruise event — seeing his friends’ faces and all of his teachers standing and waving to their students after being quarantined for so long.

Swartz plans to attend Central Michigan University in the fall.