Lauren Barry
Lauren Barry

In Salem, senior James Moore remembers his last day in person at Blanchet School. It was the second week in March and he was prepping with the rest of the cast for the opening night of “High School Musical.” He played Chad, the protagonist’s best friend.

On Thursday, March 12, Gov. Kate Brown ordered all schools to close.

“We performed it for an empty auditorium,” Moore said.

Moore is one of about 3.7 million high school seniors in the United States, nearly all of whom missed finishing their senior year with friends. Like Moore, none of them saw it coming.

At first Moore thought the closure would last through the end of spring break. “Then they said, ‘just a little longer,’” he remembered.

Then it was through the entire year.

Lauren Barry, graduating from Marist High School in Eugene, said the worst part of the shutdown was that her class’s last day together was just an ordinary day. “If we’d known we would have embraced each other,” she said.

Grace Graham, a senior at St. Mary’s Academy, described how her senior year morphed into zoom meetings, often as many as five a day, led by teachers, club presidents and even her lacrosse coach.

“Half say, ‘focus on the positive,’ and half say, ‘I’m so sorry,’” she said.

Graham, a parishioner at St. Mary Cathedral, understands. “It’s stressful, but it has forced me to live in the present.”

That extends to her college plans. Graham is headed to Georgetown University, which had not announced its plans as of press time. She’s philosophical: “Whatever will happen will happen.”

Barry and Moore’s schools, Rollins College in Florida and George Fox University in Newberg, respectively, have both announced they will open.

Neither Moore nor Barry sound completely convinced.

Seniors have missed more than senior prom and graduation. For Barry in Eugene, a key disappointment was the cancellation of the school’s Mr. Spartan Pageant, which she helped organize. Proceeds go to the neonatal intensive care unit at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Hospital.

For Moore in Salem there was the spring baseball season.

And for Graham in Portland, the school’s championship Science Olympiad team saw the season abandoned.

Robin Smith, principal at Blanchet, thinks the bulk of the student body was taking the cessation of in-person classes in stride.

He kept in close contact with Moore, the student body president, throughout the spring. “Just like everybody, he’s not happy with the situation, but every time I talk with him via Zoom he refreshes my spirits,” said Smith.

Moore thinks his faith helped him through the quarantine. “I’m a super-optimist,” he said, a condition nourished by his Catholicism. “Every day we wake up and choose to believe in something we can’t see. We experience all of creation through that choice to be optimistic.”

Moore said being with his family was the quarantine’s hidden blessing. “We’re going to college next year, so having this time together is really special.”

Graham and Barry concurred.

“You’re quarantined with your family, kind of your best friends,” said Barry. “To get these last few months has been awesome.”

For Graham, staying home has meant more time with her father, a busy doctor, than either had expected, as well as with her mother and younger sister. “It was nice,” she said. Plus, “knowing that everyone else is going through it too, there’s unity and strength in that.”

Barry too saw the shared experience as a positive. “It’s cool how the whole world has come together to combat this nasty little virus,” she said. “And it’s mind-boggling to think that we’re living in a time that kids may learn about in their history books.”

She believes graduates should give themselves permission to grieve over what they’ve missed — as well as grieving over the tens of thousands dying of COVID-19.

“You have to take time to recognize your feelings,” Barry said. “We missed lots of amazing things. But if you start thinking ‘I’m missing this and this and this’ — you can go down a deep hole. There will be other dances.”