A time capsule of a historic senior year

The class of 2020 celebrates Graduation amidst turbulent times

June 2, 2020

The graduating class of 2020 was robbed of the normal “senior experience;” this class did not get to have a senior Prom or a Graduation, but also did not get an opportunity for closure as this chapter of their lives came to an end. 

Every year, in its final print issue, Echo publishes a list of the seniors’ plans for after graduation, but this year that wasn’t a possibility because of COVID-19. In an effort to maintain that tradition, Echo decided it would create a digital form of the “senior spread” to chronicle the memories and perspectives of this unique graduating class.

Orioles fly the nest

This fall, Park’s graduating class of 2020 will spread across the country to follow a multitude of unique paths: some will continue their education at various colleges and universities, some will enter the workforce, some will join the armed forces and some will choose their own path. Below is an interactive map of the United States depicting where Park’s Class of 2020 will be going following Graduation. 

Senior spread

Following the “senior spread” tradition, Echo is publishing a list of the plans all the graduating seniors have announced for after Graduation. The information in this list was gathered from a survey sent to all seniors, organized by Marta Hill and Isabel Kjaer.

Seniors share their social isolation experience

A global pandemic fundamentally changes the way people can interact with one another. People are used to gathering together to celebrate big accomplishments and moments, but in the wake of COVID-19, that physical proximity became a danger to society’s most vulnerable.

According to senior Rakesh Plantz, it is that closeness with his peers that he will miss most in Graduation.

“When you’re graduating high school, it’s hard to express everything within with just a slip of paper. You need to remember it by a moment, not just a tangible piece of paper,” Plantz said. “We do get that over virtual Graduation, but it’s not the way we wanted it and not the way we expected it, of course. We all want to do that together. We’d all want to be sitting row to row looking onto that stage, waiting for a name to be called.”

When you’re graduating high school, it’s hard to express everything within with just a slip of paper. You need to remember it by a moment, not just a tangible piece of paper”

— Rakesh Plantz

Though the loss of a Graduation ceremony pale in comparison to the other consequences of COVID-19, according to senior Jaye Townsend, who is joining the Marine Corps, it is a loss felt acutely by the class of 2020. 

“A lot of people have been telling me that like, ‘Oh, it’s fine it’s not that big a deal you sit there for three hours and listen to someone rattle off,’ but it just seems like a shared experience that all seniors should get to have,” Townsend said. “Despite the fact that it might not be as grand as we think it would be, but I think it’s an important thing that we would be able to go ‘Yeah, I graduated and I got to go to my Graduation ceremony and get my diploma.’”

According to senior William Pinney, who plans on taking a gap year to play with the junior hockey team the St. Cloud Norsemen, finishing senior year through distance learning came with both upsides and downsides.

“It’s definitely not the way I wanted it to end, but I think during the distance learning and the online learning, definitely gave me a little bit more freedom. I was able to do stuff on my own and kind of go at my own pace. However, it was difficult not being able to see my friends at school,” Pinney said.

Plantz, who will be attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities next fall, said the emotional reaction to missing Graduation was multiplied by many other intense current events, including COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd.

“Because of literally everything that 2020 has thrown at us so far, and what we’re experiencing now in our city, I don’t think you could get like a more unique and different and crazy environment for students to be graduating,” Plantz said. 

I’ve already learned so much about myself and my community, locally and nationally and worldwide within this pandemic and I hope to continue learning.”

— Isaac Wahl

The pandemic hasn’t only brought negatives for senior Isaac Wahl, who plans on taking a gap year. He said the pandemic has taught him so much already and he hopes that the pandemic won’t be remembered entirely negatively. 

“I’ve already learned so much about myself and my community, locally and nationally and worldwide within this pandemic and I hope to continue learning, and hopefully at the end of it all kind of come out like to a bright day and not really see this uncertain time and this black eye of our lives as like something that we regret,” Wahl said. 

Plantz said he is optimistic that life will begin to return to what it was before the outbreak of COVID-19.

“My hope for the coming year is that we can go back to somewhat normality. Just like somewhat normality the best we can and make it a smooth transition back into a normal economy, school life, work life and social life,” Plantz said. “I’m definitely seeing the impact of not having actual people to connect with face-to-face every day.”

Townsend said she views the time right after high school as time to focus on herself. 

“I’m hoping that I get to build myself because there was the me that was in high school, and there’s always all the regrets and all the ‘wish I could have done this and done that’ and I want to be able to go out into the next year and really solidify myself as a person that I want to be and get rid of all the regrets that I had in high school,” Townsend said. 

As Wahl reflected on how the pandemic changed his perspective, he said the absence of in-person school in his life made him realize how important the non-educational aspects of school impacted him.

“I really wish I would have cherished the moments I had prior to all this pandemic stuff because when it’s taken away, it really does leave a gap and a void in your life because we don’t realize how much more school is than homework and grades,” Wahl said. “It’s so much more, it’s activities, it’s extracurriculars, it’s passions, it’s social life, it’s schedule, it’s organization and all that stuff. So I would definitely say some advice for future people that come is definitely to cherish your high school education.” 

Class of 2020 by the numbers

Every student has a unique background and set of talents and interests that guide them toward a post-Graduation path. For some students, like Townsend, that path is in the armed forces.

“I was contacted by a recruiter from the Marines and obviously that takes a lot of decision to think if I’m going to do that. I was talking to my uncle who was in the army, and he talked about how he had gone to college for two years after and it just wasn’t something he wanted to do,” Townsend said. “He really just wanted to go do something else and have a job in the army and travel and solidify himself, and I really connected with that.”

This is taking a different path and I think it’s going to be really good. Especially with everything going on right now I’m really grateful that this is in my plans.”

— Isaac Wahl

For other students, like Wahl, it is the right decision to take time during a gap year to consider all options, instead of rushing to choose which college is the right fit during senior year.

“This is taking a different path and I think it’s going to be really good. Especially with everything going on right now I’m really grateful that this is in my plans,” Wahl said. “It also just didn’t feel right to me to push myself into a college that I really wasn’t truly passionate about, so I hope to let this next year let my full potential come out and actually choose a school that I fully am invested in, and I’m willing to spend that many years of my life at.”

For Plantz, COVID-19 made his decision of which college to attend much harder. In the days leading up to the decision deadline, he said he called and met with friends to discuss the options.

“I think college is the best bet for me because there I can actually figure out what I want to do. Rather than just sit at home and just wander job to job like, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this.’ I can actually figure out what I want to do at the same time while learning stuff I want to learn,” Plantz said. 

The following pie chart depicts the percentage of the class of 2020 that will be attending school, joining the armed forces, going directly into the workforce, joining a sports team or taking a gap year. The “Unknown” section describes both the graduates that we did not receive a response from in the survey and the graduates who haven’t yet finalized their post-Graduation plans.

This pie chart shows the percentage of the class of 2020 going into each region of the United States or planning to go abroad. For this chart, students for whom we did not know the location of their future plans were not included.



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