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By ABIGAIL DOLLINS and ERIN BORMETT – Associated Press – Saturday, May 2, 2020
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) – The impact of school closures from the COVID-19 crisis has been particularly hard for high school students, many of whom hoped to make lifetime memories and embrace the celebration and satisfaction that comes with graduation.
Since this is prom season, the Argus Leader decided to catch up with some of these students and give them a chance to show off their finery while talking about how their lives have been affected.
‘I wasn’t able to say goodbye’
Like many other high school students, Addison Thie gathered her things from her locker not knowing it would be the last day she would spend at Washington High.
“I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my teachers or friends I don’t see outside of school,” Thie said.
The senior is worried she might not get to experience the “lasts” she spent her school year looking forward to, like her final show choir performance.
Had it not been for the pandemic, she would have performed in front of family and friends as a way to commemorate the end of the year. Thie was also looking forward to renting a limo with friends as their ride to prom.
“It was so sudden, and of course you look forward to prom because you hear so much about it,” she said. “I’m just hoping we get to do some things to make up for it.”
‘First thing that felt like me’
Cee Nevin tried on dress after dress, but nothing felt right. When she walked into David Jones Fashions, she was immediately greeted by a mint-colored three-piece suit and figured it was fate.
“It was perfect,” said the New Technology senior. “It was the first thing that felt like me.”
Nevin said that yes, she is sad to miss the hallmark events of senior year. The sparkling mint suit was going to be her graduation attire as well. But the loss felt by the class of 2020 can be formative all on its own.
“It’s a unique experience that I’ll be sharing with my class,” she said. “It’s something we’re all experiencing, and to have that connection with them is a sort of bittersweet consequence.”
‘We want the real thing’
Stephan Burkhart was looking forward to finishing high school and moving on to the next stage of life, but now would give anything to walk the halls of Washington High again.
“None of this seemed real at first,” said the senior. “It felt like this was just some crazy media thing that was going to blow over. But then when the reality kicked in, we realized we were never going to experience any of the senior stuff.”
A recent school survey floated the possibility of an in-person graduation ceremony later in the year. Burkhart said that he believes students across the board would be in favor of that rather than a virtual ceremony at the typical end of the school year.
“It’s hard to find closure when you’re sitting at home watching the last quarter just go out the window,” he said. “I think I speak for everyone when I say we want the real thing.”
‘Still made some great memories’
As the only senior on the prom committee at New Technology, Emily Hill called the shots. She spent weeks brainstorming and dreaming up the perfect prom theme – Midnight Garden Party.
Her hard work was put on pause because of the COVID-19 crisis.
“It was disappointing at first, but if it’s going to be canceled for anything, I’m glad it’s to keep people healthy and safe,” Hill said. “I’m not giving up hope that it will happen.”
Since she had not yet purchased a dress, Hill decided she would wear her mom’s prom dress from 1998. As a young girl, she would pull the dress out of the closet at her grandma’s house and let it engulf her. It would trail behind her as she walked. Today, its black velvet and white satin hold more meaning.
“It’s going to be one of those things where I’ll look back on this time and think, ‘Sure I missed out on some big moments, but I still made some great memories,’” Hill said.
‘Nothing feels real’
Morgan Oskar’s prom dress was going to fulfill a fantasy. Inspired by the queen’s gown at the renaissance fair she’s attended every year of her life, a blue puffy ball gown fit the bill perfectly.
Now, the Lincoln senior does feel like she’s living in a dream, but not the one she planned for.
“Nothing feels real,” she said. “I’ve just been trying to keep it together, but being so isolated really sucks. PTSD, paranoia is all crashing in.”
Just before the pandemic hit, Oskar’s car broke down and was sold for parts. With no mode of transportation, she hasn’t left the house in over month.
Stuck inside for so long, her worries about the virus have translated into a heightened concern for safety in general. She checks the locks on her doors every few hours.
“It’s like a dystopian sci-fi movie you’d see at the theater,” she said. “It’s been really hard.”
Save the last dance
Prom is not the only dance that Beresford senior Brooklin Nothdurft was looking forward to. As she prepares for the next chapter of her life, her sights are set on the college dance program at Minnesota State in Mankato.
Unable to travel because of the pandemic, she was forced to try out for the team by sending in videos. Weeks and months of preparation all for that moment. The high school senior is trying to make the most of everything, though.
She eventually hopes to have a small prom with friends and dance in her dress as planned.
“I’m sad that it got cut short, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Nothdurft said.
‘I get really scared about it’
Megan Gusso knows what it feels like to be intubated. The O’Gorman senior has severe asthma and a lung condition that puts her at a high risk for the coronavirus.
“With my background, I get really scared about it,” Gusso said. “Especially with not having any kind of medication specific to treating COVID-19, I know if I were to get it, things wouldn’t go well.”
A cough or a sniffle triggers a routine of vitamins and medications to keep sickness at bay. Gusso spent the first part of her life laying in a neonatal intensive care unit and was hospitalized every year until the eighth grade.
She has already missed out.
In September 2019, she struggled to walk the halls of her school without stopping to catch her breath. During that time, Gusso was the captain of a competitive cheer team and was training for the season. She spent five days in the hospital recovering from a common cold.
Early on, Gusso began practicing social distancing.
“I want people to understand it’s not for you, it’s for the people who are really going to struggle with something like this,” Gusso said. “It’s still hard knowing that everything has been taken, but it is for the best and in some sense, I can understand why when others can’t.”
Not just about dressing up
Alyssa Eichmann’s date was going to travel across the country to take her to prom. Her friend Logan joined the U.S. Marines in San Diego after graduating from Roosevelt last year. He was going to make a special trip just for her, until prom was canceled.
“The best part isn’t dressing up,” said Eichmann, a senior. “It’s being with your friends and having fun and staying out late.”
This wouldn’t be Eichmann’s first prom, but as a senior it meant something more.
“I still wanted to feel that it was more mine, and not just being there for someone else.”
‘I’ve never been able to do this’
On what would have been prom night, Saylor Hutcheson’s only plans were family dinner and a movie on the couch. But that didn’t stop her from getting dressed to the nines.
“All my siblings were watching me get ready,” said the Canistota High junior. “I at least wanted to wear my dress on prom night.”
Her brother, a senior, had a tuxedo ready for prom as well, but he didn’t join Hutcheson in her fancy at-home evening.
Hutcheson is a junior, so she gets another chance at prom next year. This year’s event was special for her, however, because it would have been her first formal event of any kind.
“No homecoming dance, no formals,” she said. “I’ve never been able to do this or anything like it before.”
When the pandemic passes, a group of Hutcheson’s friends plan to dress up for a night and end with a bonfire to make up for lost time.
‘Nervous about saying goodbye’
During his time at New Technology High, Grant Peterson met some of his best friends. “It’s hard to find someone at New Tech that doesn’t know everyone around them,” Peterson said.
Now he’s unsure of when he’ll see them next.
While Peterson has missed out on some of the experiences that come with being a senior, the senior hopes the next chapter of his life will look different.
Peterson plans to continue his education at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and study industrial engineering. He won’t soon forget the people he spent the past four years with.
“I’m nervous about saying goodbye to everyone that I’ve either known for most of my life or known the last four years and formed such close bonds with,” Peterson said.
‘Go big for senior year’
Harrisburg High School’s prom was canceled, but that didn’t stop Hailey Reynolds and her boyfriend, Jerry Snellinger, from sharing a special evening together.
As sunset approached, the pair sat across from each other under string lights that decorated the pergola in her backyard. Instead of getting Sonic with friends before the dance, they had a steak dinner cooked by her family.
Reynolds has had her dress picked out since February. She mainly bought it because it has pockets. In years past, she opted for something simpler but wanted to make this year special.
“Green is my favorite color,” Reynolds said. “I might as well go big for senior year.”