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Pandemic cancels senior moments for the class of 2020

“This year was going to be my first and last prom.”
Yamaris Serrano, Senior

Yamaris Serrano would have been excitedly preparing for her graduation in June. She was to walk across the stage and receive her diploma to the cheers of family on June 4.

But, now she can only imagine what that moment would have felt like.  She joins countless Class of 2020 seniors whose graduation ceremonies were canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic that hit the country.

Her last physical day at Great Path Academy in Manchester was March 13 — the day before spring break was scheduled to start.

Like her fellow seniors, she never dreamed she would not set foot on campus again as a high school student..

“Our school is really open and we were talking about things and how things might change, and that spring break might be extended, but no one ever expected not to go back,” said the 18-year-old Serrano. “We didn’t think it was going to last this long. Our senior year ended (on March 13), but we didn’t know it.”

May would have been packed with senior moments — prom, senior ditch day, senior trip, and decision day when seniors announce where they will be going to college.

“This year was going to be my first and last prom. I bought my prom dress two weeks before all this happened. I was so excited at the start of the year, to have these memories,” Serrano said.

Yamaris Serrano models her prom dress

After being told their graduation ceremony was canceled, Serrano and her best friend made a video asking school officials to reconsider having a traditional ceremony for her senior class of 72 graduates. They suggested moving the ceremony from the auditorium to the open field area in front of Manchester Community College, where their magnate school is located, which would allow for social distancing. They also suggested having the ceremony in a few months or in winter.

“We sent the video to the superintendent, principal, and teachers. But sadly, they are not willing to do anything,” Serrano said.

The district said it had to wait and see what the state said in reopening and allowing public gatherings.

“We understand there is a pandemic, but we are willing to wait — even if it’s in the winter or a few months from now, but they still said no,” Serrano said.

School officials originally told the graduating seniors they would have a virtual ceremony, but now they will be having a parade — or drive-thru ceremony —  but no date has yet been given.

What Serrano knows is each student will be allowed one car with family; they must wear face masks, and they will be escorted by the Hartford and Manchester police.

“I’ll only be able to bring my mom, grandmother, and two brothers. My third brother can’t come because we don’t all fit in one car,” she said. “The date is still unknown. Hopefully, we know soon.”

CTLN’s Vicki Adame speaks with Yamaris Serrano and Jerry Pratts Jr.

The graduates also don’t know if they can get out of the car to get their diploma or if it will be brought to them, Serrano said.

Missing out on the end of her senior year has taken an emotional toll on Serrano.

“I was sad, aggravated, confused. With senioritis you just want it to be done. Now I’m looking back at how school was. I always told myself it was all going to be worth it. I wish I would have held on to being in the moment, instead of trying to rush it,” she said.

And in addition to missing out on those senior moments, Serrano and her classmates won’t even have a yearbook. The school decided to have a vote to see whether they would produce a yearbook and there weren’t votes to do one.

“A lot of people say there is no point in doing a yearbook — there’s no senior skip day photos, prom. We even asked for a small one, with photos that show what we’ve done. They said not a lot of people are participating. It sucks. I wish it wasn’t like that, but…,” Serrano said.

Serrano said she understands it’s a difficult time and the impact the Coronavirus has had.

But what people may not realize is that seniors today, she said, grew up with 9-11; they were in middle school when school shootings were happening all too frequently and were practicing drills to prepare in the event of one.

“And now the pandemic. Class of 2020, we have to stay strong,” Serrano said.

Yamaris with cousins Jerry to her right and Isabelle Torres to her left

For Serrano, graduation was extra special. She is one of six cousins who are all graduating from Connecticut high schools.

Before the pandemic and the stay at home orders, the families had planned a huge celebration. They still plan to hold a huge party — once it is ok to have large gatherings, she said.

“We missed out on a lot. It changed in a blink of an eye,” Serrano said. “We’re not going back to the old normal. This is going to change us in a good way.”

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