For high-school seniors, the virus stole their traditions — but not their spirit.
by Ken Garfield
For high-school seniors everywhere, a springtime of memories was dashed by COVID-19. Instead of dancing the night away at prom, posing for pictures in their caps and gowns, or hanging out on campus with friends for the last time, they were sheltering in place. But rather than wallowing in regret, these four young men and women (and so many others) put their losses in perspective. The pandemic kept them from going to school, but it has not kept them from learning some beautiful lessons.
“Looking at the bigger picture“
Grace Brashear is one of those kids who will go through life finding a way. Grace, who turned 18 on May 21, is headed to College of Charleston, where she plans to study early childhood education, or something related to children. But before then, she intends to make up for what COVID-19 took away from her senior year at South Mecklenburg High School.
The traditional junior/senior spring break trip to Ocean Isle Beach that was canceled? She and her friends are hoping to find a week this summer to go — with parent chaperones, of course. The senior prom? Since the girls had already purchased fancy gowns, Grace says plans are in the works to hold a “prom” at a friend’s house. Guys are invited, tuxedos preferred. She isn’t sure how many seniors will come — “It depends on who wants to get dressed up,” Grace says — but they’re sure to have a great time.
Initially, Grace, who is the daughter of Drew and Jill Brashear, was bummed out by the loss of so many “senior” moments. Her first thoughts were with those stricken by the virus and the health care professionals doing heroic work. But the more time she spent with her parents and brother, the more she realized what she had gained from all this. Life was hectic before the shutdown. Life will be hectic after the shutdown. How many other times in life will she be able to share a family dinner and linger over the conversation?
“When I look back on it,” Grace says, “I’m looking at the bigger picture.”
“The most important thing“
Spring break trips to fish in Florida and watch his little sister play lacrosse at the Outer Banks? Gone. Taking his girlfriend, Catherine, to senior prom? Gone. Attending commencement, even if it’s rescheduled for this summer? Likely gone, since Trevor Kelly will probably have left for basic training before starting school at the United States Military Academy.
“It’s tough,” says Trevor, who is graduating from Myers Park High School. “It’s disappointing. It’s supposed to be the cherry on top, the exclamation point of high school.”
Trevor, the son of Kevin and Sue Kelly, spent much of the shutdown working out in his garage — he’ll play lacrosse at West Point — and connecting via Zoom with his small group at Westminster Presbyterian Church. But what he didn’t dwell on was himself.
“The most important thing in my perspective is that everyone is safe,” Trevor says. “I’d rather see everyone healthy during this time.”
He understands that other golden moments lie ahead. Anyway, he says, he got to go to junior prom.
“Trying to stay positive“
A.J. Ratchford’s mom says he’s a laid-back guy, a great quality to have during a pandemic, and whatever else life throws your way.
A.J., 18, lost his senior season of varsity baseball at Providence Day School. Rather than pitching or playing left field for the Chargers, he played a little pickleball with his friends during the shutdown (keeping their distance, of course). He’s thinking he’ll wash cars this summer at Autobell before leaving for Fort Worth, Texas, and his freshman year at Texas Christian University.
Are you seeing the picture?
A.J., the son of Jim and Denise Ratchford, is looking ahead. What’s in the past is in the past, even as Providence Day works to revise some of the senior traditions — commencement has been pushed back to July 31. He’s headed to a great school far from home but near some family members. He thinks he’ll study finance.
COVID-19 wasn’t powerful enough to take A.J.’s eyes off the prize that awaits. “I’ve been trying to stay positive.”
“Make people smile“
Kimai McPhee’s plans for her final semester extended beyond the normal traditions. As student body president at Charlotte Country Day School, she wanted to close out the year with a focus on mental-health awareness and encourage fellow students to take care of themselves. She was also relishing the time she’d spend with her fellow seniors before leaving for Scripps College, a small women’s college in Claremont, Calif. Kimai, 18, is thinking about getting into film, hence her decision to go to school near Los Angeles. COVID-19 forced her to cancel her spring break trip to visit the campus.
Kimai (pronounced Kim-i) is the daughter of Joel and Sherryl McPhee. In the midst of COVID-19, she filled the shutdown with meaningful pursuits, reading Toni Morrison’s classic novel Beloved and tracking her nightly dreams in a journal.
“Dreams” is an appropriate word to apply to Kimai, for her future is fueled by the dream of spreading her positive spirit wherever life leads. As soon as we’re free to connect with others, Kimai will be off and running for good. So will Trevor, Grace, A.J. and many other high-school seniors who will not be deterred, not even by a pandemic.
“One of my goals is to make people smile every day,” Kimai says. “As long as I’m doing that, I’ll be very happy.” SP
Freelance writer Ken Garfield is a frequent contributor to SouthPark magazine, telling stories of people and places in our community. He also writes obituaries for people. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.