Members of the Park Rapids Panthers graduating class of 2020 shared mixed feelings last week about how COVID-19 affected their senior year.

Bummed about it

Lily Friedl said, “I just feel really upset that COVID ruined a lot of things that I was looking forward to doing. I was hoping to go to prom and to walk for graduation.”

“I feel devastated about the loss of what I would've considered the best part of senior year,” said Madison Carey. “I didn't get to have my friends all sign my yearbook, and we didn't get to enjoy our spring activities. After all my hard work and dedication, I would have at least appreciated a normal graduation. It's the moment we look forward to since the start of our school careers.”

Johnna Krabbenhoft said her “greatest fear” was missing her senior milestones, such as the prom, Senior Slam, the scholarship program, “and valuable time spent with friends and family, many of which may soon be heading off to the military.”

Rilee Michaelson said, “This year isn’t what I had planned. Ever since a little kid, I had grown up looking forward to graduating high school and moving on with life, wearing the cap and gown and walking across that stage in front of family and friends. But not everything goes as planned, I guess.”

Before the school shut down, Kayla Montzka said, “I had many teachers, friends, role models and teammates. Now I have empty autograph pages in my yearbook, hoping to reach a quarter of those people outside of school.”

“It was really hard,” said Kayleah Breitweser. “Every high school student waits for their senior year, where they get to pull senior pranks and have Senior Slam and such, so it’s hard not being allowed to do those things.”

Madison Benham said, “Losing the last two months with my friends has been absolutely heartbreaking. I am still struggling to wrap my head around what is going on, and it brings me to tears when I think about the things I will never get to do.”

“It is a huge disappointment that my senior year was cut off,” said Joseph Stachowski. “I won't get to experience my last prom, baseball season or graduation.”

“Not getting to spend the end of my senior year at high school is very depressing,” said Chloe Voigt. “Then, not having prom or a proper graduation makes it more difficult. It was really hard for me to grasp the fact that I wasn’t going to get the graduation that I had always been so excited for. It really stinks that this had to happen, but things could be a lot worse. I just need to stay positive and be glad that we are getting something for graduation.”

Pretty OK with it

“I believe our current graduation plan is the best option given our current situation, so I’m thankful for the opportunity,” said Braeden Berg.

“Under the given guidelines and rules, I appreciate every single thing that has been given to me in replacement,” said Krabbenhhoft, “including our commencement ceremony. I am completely grateful, and fully believe that this is one of the best options that could have come at this time. I am proud of and thankful for our school staff and contributors for working so diligently to make this a reality.”

Paige Johnson said she senses a shared feeling of closure among her classmates. “I am very grateful that I still get to have a graduation,” she said. “Although this is going to be a ceremony that no one has ever experienced before, I am still so excited to share this moment with my fellow classmates! COVID-19 brought an abrupt end to our senior year. I know that many people, including myself, weren't expecting to leave Park Rapids this way, but I strongly believe that we will all come out of this stronger people.”

“It will be different,” said Hunter Brandt, “but it won't change that I've achieved my goal in graduating high school and moving on to college. … One thing I have learned in my high school years is that there's nothing to fear but fear itself, and that my faith in God will help show me the right path through this pandemic. I think we as the class of 2020 shouldn't let COVID 19 define who we are. I won't let COVID 19 define me as I move towards the future with faith, confidence, and perseverance.”

Michaelson said studying online, being home all day and working during school hours made it a senior year she would never have expected. “I know that this isn’t what we had imagined, but I believe that we will all get through this together and everything will be ok in the end,” she said.

“I know that because of this pandemic, we all have grown a new appreciation for the little things and for each other,” said Benham. “This has been the hardest two months for me and my entire family, but God has a plan, we just have to trust in him.”

“It is very unfortunate that this all had to happen, but I know it was for the best,” said Stachowski. “I hope everyone is doing very well in these times of trouble.”

Krabbenhoft added, “Although it is a horrible and terrifying situation, all hope is not lost!”

Drive-in graduation still on track

Principal Jeffrey Johnson confirmed on May 15 that a drive-in graduation ceremony is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine, at Park Rapids Area High School.

“Plans are fluid and may need to be changed,” Johnson said in an email that went out to the entire school community. “We are following the Minnesota Department of Education graduation/commencement celebration guidance. … If the social distancing recommendations are not followed, the program will be ended.”

According to Johnson, the high school bus loop will open at 12:30 p.m. for seniors’ families to park around it, with smaller vehicles on the inside and larger ones toward the outside of the loop.

Occupants must stay inside the vehicle; sitting in the box of a truck is not allowed. One car per family is allowed, and only parents and siblings may ride along. No bathrooms will be available.

Graduates must stay inside the vehicle until their name is called. When called, up to five students may get out of their vehicles at a time and approach the dais to collect their diploma covers.

After the program, parents may drop the graduates off at the Century School bus loop to pick up their own vehicles to drive in a parade down Fair Ave. and up Main Ave. The community is encouraged to park along the parade route and support the graduates from inside their vehicles.