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Across the Midwest, graduating high school students reflect on the missing months

  • 1 min to read

Senior year is a passage into adulthood, the beginning of a career or a move to college. Often, senior year is remembered with rose-tinted glasses. For the class of 2020, there will not be fond memories of milestones such as prom and graduation. Instead, senior year will be remembered for its dysfunction and the word ‘canceled.’

By mid-March, schools across the country had closed for the year. Students had no clue it would be their last time to walk the halls with their best friends, favorite teachers and, maybe, first loves. No sports, proms or regular farewells. These moments are meant to be a source of closure. Instead, there is much that feels unfinished.

Senior high school students from Columbia, Kansas City and Chicago talk about these final weeks as school comes to a close.

— Juliana Tornabene, video producer

About this project

This project was a collaborative effort from visual journalists at the Columbia Missourian. When classes were canceled, some students stayed, some migrated back home. The team saw the pandemic as an opportunity to tell a story with a breadth of voices from across the Midwest.

We discussed how to safely conduct interviews in an effort to create something documenting how COVID-19 has affected the lives of high school graduates. Doing field reporting while practicing social distancing complicated the project.

Our goal was to find students who had different interests and activities in high school. While some students were most upset about missing prom, others were more concerned about their canceled band concert.

However, among all interviews, there was an underlying sense of dissatisfaction, an unexpected, bitter aftertaste. The uncertainty these students felt is palpable, and, despite their geographic distance from one another, remarkably consistent.

Two of our visual journalists, Sydney Walton and Maya Valentine, are Chicago natives. While visiting family, they found time to speak with two seniors from Lindblom Math and Science Academy.

Sarai Vega interviewed sources from Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kansas, when she had to return home.

Additionally, MaKenzie Bagley, Julia Hansen, Matt McCabe, Juliana Tornabene and Samantha Waigand found sources in Columbia, and captured footage of the local high schools.— David Kunz, video editor(tncms-asset)41754014-9b0e-11ea-8b04-1bada9d96931[1](/tncms-asset)

Leslie Barner and Lauren Linford pose for a photo during a celebratory parade
Rock Bridge High School math teacher Janet Thompson hands out candy
Stacey Noble and Brad Noble help their daughter exit from an oversized toilet paper roll
Rock Bridge High School graduates participated in a neighborhood parade
Donna Piecko organized the neighborhood graduation parade
  • I'm the Director of Photography working close with staff photographers, videographers, photo editors and designers to help our stories become visually exciting. Follow us on Instagram: comissourian

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