Flathead High School was excited to celebrate the graduation of our seniors, the class of 2021. I remember last year’s graduates and how their senior year was cut short, truncated in March of 2020 when schools shut down, and all the excitement of prom, the scholarship ceremony, and spring activities evaporated. An abbreviated outdoor graduation was forced to suffice, and we mustered as much pomp and circumstance as the pandemic allowed.
This year’s seniors, the Class of 2021, had more than the Class of 2020 when it came to interruptions to the school year. They ended their junior year last June with high hopes for a “normal” senior year. Kalispell Public Schools decided that rather than increase disruption and frustration for families with partial schedules and blended learning, we would open at the end of August for full school five days a week. While that gave some semblance of normalcy to the start of the year, it quickly became apparent to our seniors that school would be far from normal. Classes began, but instead of arrangements that facilitated student collaboration and discussion, classrooms housed desks that were spaced as far apart as possible. Cleaning procedures marked the beginning and ending of class periods, and students and staff wore masks all day long.
Homecoming rolled around, and Flathead traditions such as the parade down Main Street, a school-wide assembly, and our widely attended homecoming dance were not possible. We rallied around new traditions, such as lunchtime corn hole, spike ball, and trivia contests, but it wasn’t the same. Meanwhile, students and staff tested positive for COVID or were quarantined as close contacts throughout the fall. Some students got quarantined four times, being the unlucky person to unknowingly sit near a student testing positive in a class.
In spite of it all, education moved forward, week after week. Teachers did their best to accommodate quarantined and sick students, often while managing their own families and households of sick and quarantined people. Activities from sports to music to speech to theater experienced interrupted and truncated seasons, with contests canceled, postponed, and rescheduled along the way. The fall band concert in the main gym, where student musicians spread out across the entire gym floor, just wasn’t quite the same. But we celebrated nonetheless, grateful to hear student-produced music.
It is interesting how people respond to crisis and troubled times. American writer Rebecca Solnit notes that people not only buck up in times of crisis, they do so with a “startling, sharp joy.” It is possible to endure many hardships and find happiness in shared moments. When we held prom on April 3, our first school dance in a year and a half, 450 students dressed up and came to enjoy each other’s company in the Flathead High School commons. It was a highlight of the year.
Congratulations, class of 2021! Instead of focusing on all you’ve missed and how you’ve been short-changed, you continue to find joy in your final high school moments. I know you’ll find happiness in life.
Michele Paine is the principal at Flathead High School.
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