From distance learning to canceled activities to social distance in the classroom, the class of 2021 has endured a lot in their final year of high school. In light of the isolation of COVID-19, the fact that students will be able to celebrate prom and graduation in person this year is more meaningful than ever.
Last year, most of the major milestones for seniors weren’t able to happen in person at all. This year’s seniors are fully aware of how lucky they are to be able to take part in these important senior milestones, even if those events look a little different.
“Each and every one of us had already settled on that we were not going to get it, so it’s like a nice little end of the year goodbye that we at least get to have something,”
said Centennial High School senior Elizabeth Timothy. “I feel like a lot of people in quarantine were struggling with depression because of all the things that we lost, and I think getting them back is going to really help put a smile on people’s face.”
The Centennial, Mounds View and White Bear Lake school districts will all have modified in-person events to allow seniors to have these important experiences.
Centennial will hold prom and graduation outdoors in the school stadium. This year, tickets are free, and students must arrange to attend in “pods” of six. These pods are encouraged to stick together during the dance, and the dance floor will be marked off into several separate areas to allow for social distancing. Before they get their tickets, students are also required to go through a health screening to ensure they have no fever or other COVID-19 symptoms. Students will wear masks during the dance, and there will be no food served, only water.
“We had kind of a virtual prom last year, which was better than having nothing,” Centennial High School Principal Tom Breuning said. “These seniors have missed out on a lot, so it’s very important for them to have a prom.”
Spectators will be allowed in the bleachers for the grand march, with appropriate social distancing. Breuning anticipates fine weather, but there is a contingency plan to move into indoor recreation areas in the case of inclement weather.
Graduation will be held in two shorter sessions to reduce the number of people present at one time. Usually the event is held at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, but Centennial has opted to use the school stadium instead.
Mounds View and White Bear Lake are taking similar precautions to ensure that students get the quintessential high school experience without endangering their health and safety. Mounds View will hold a modified prom, which will include a day of fun activities and a virtual grand march before an evening at the Mall of America where the Nickelodeon Universe theme park will be closed to the public and students can ride unlimited rides.
“Being able to participate in rites of passage not only allows us students to participate in a hard-earned ceremony, but it also provides us with a sense of normalcy, especially after a year of anxiousness and irregularity,” said Mounds View senior Christopher Wikstrom.
Mounds View will hold its graduation ceremony at Mariucci Arena, with two tickets per student.
“I think it means the world to these students that they get to celebrate prom and graduation,” said Mounds View principal Stephanie Bruggers. “There has been much isolation over the past year, and they are very much looking forward to celebrating safely with friends and family.”
White Bear Lake seniors will also be able to attend in-person prom, with multiple grand marches and dance sessions to ensure adequate distancing is maintained.
“The year has been challenging for all students but especially the seniors,” said South Campus High School principal Don Bosch. “The changes in learning formats has not been easy for our seniors, but they are a resilient and great group of students.”
Students and parents are also getting creative in planning senior parties. In the past, many schools have had an all-night, lock-in-style party, but Centennial has chosen to modify it into a drive-through experience instead.
Although most schools in the region are back to in-person learning, there are still hundreds of students who have opted to continue their schooling from home. For seniors like Centennial student Owen Reynolds-Lillibridge, the ability to attend prom and graduation is not only a rite of passage but a vital chance to spend time with peers before everyone embarks their post-graduation path.
“I like being able to come back to something that feels somewhat normal,” Reynolds-Lillibridge said.
Breuning noted that students in all grades have shown incredible strength and adaptability in managing the vagaries of this unusual school year.
“I’m incredibly proud of the senior class,” Breuning said. “They have been through adversity, they’ve developed a lot of wisdom going through what they’ve had to endure with different learning modes, with living through a pandemic. I’m excited we can do something to give them an experience and honor them.”