Many high school seniors missed out on senior year festivities because of the coronavirus outbreak. These locals found ways to celebrate them anyway.
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Walking through many neighborhoods lately, one might see a yard sign or banner recognizing a graduating high school or college senior.
While it’s not the same as a prom, parade or graduation party, it’s one of many ways parents, school faculty and community members are showing their determination to make up for what was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Choctawhatchee High School honored its high school seniors with two digital billboards on either end of Racetrack Road, at the corner of Eglin Parkway and the corner of Mar Walt Drive.
Michelle Heck, the principal, said it’s the first time.
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“Like everyone, (we were) trying to think outside the box on ways to make sure our class of 2020 seniors feel recognized – understandably for all their accomplishments,” Heck said. “They are absolutely resilient. I think that this is not at all – not only them – but the way anyone saw the final quarter of their senior year looking. We were trying to find ways to make it special.”
Heck didn’t want the billboards to simply say “Congratulations,” she wanted their faces to be seen. The screen displays photos of four students at a time.
The school’s Facebook page gave a sneak peek and the response was overwhelming.
“Parents were ecstatic and so appreciative,” Heck said. “Our kids, I got not only comments but email after email, ‘Thank you so much, Ms. Heck.’ They’re just excited. They get to see themselves there and the appreciation of an extra step recognizing their hard work in this different way.”
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Daniel Simmons of Daniel Simmons Photography had already been making yard signs for Crestview High School senior students when Miranda Delpozo, the senior class sponsor, reached out to do something special for the entire class. Simmons created a 30-foot banner with the school’s logo and all of the students’ names printed on it that is now hanging outside the school. He even had it printed locally.
“They’ve been going up and actually taking pictures with the sign, finding their names and pointing at them,” Simmons said. “That’s really been a big positive when I drive by and see people in front of the sign. That’s a pretty awesome feeling, knowing you can make a difference in the lives of these kids this year. They’ve missed out on a lot unfortunately.”
Santa Rosa Beach resident Matt Christopher started making small yard signs for a handful of seniors at South Walton High School. Among them is his daughter, Chelsey.
“It dawned on me, the kids aren’t getting anything,” Christopher said. “Kids get that senior year moment. That last two months of it is when these cool things happen that trigger this, ‘We’re done and now we can move on.’ They’re not getting any of that, so it’s like limbo. We all got senior skip day, the senior skip parade. It stinks.”
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Christopher decided to take things to the next level. He’s started a GoFundMe page to raise money to have large banners printed for the entire 2020 class, which is 178 seniors. Chelsey has access to their yearbook photos to print on the banners.
Christopher received approval to place the banners along U.S. Highway 331 near the high school.
“When they do decide to do a graduation ceremony, we’re going to take the banners and line the football field with them,” Christopher said. “It will be something when it’s all over, the parents can take the banner and have a little keepsake.”
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Like Christopher, Sunnie Bexley decided to honor her daughter and Niceville High School senior, Isabella, with a yard display. Isabella will attend and play volleyball at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, in the fall.
“I wanted to celebrate her and all her hard work,” Bexley said. “With graduation plans up in the air, I wanted to celebrate her for the month of May, and share with our neighbors how proud we are of her.”
Bexley contacted Rebecca Childress, Isabella’s volleyball sponsor and a teacher, to ask permission to take Bella's senior volleyball banner out of the gym. She then received permission from the principal.
“Without their help, my surprise would not have happened,” Bexley said. “After that, the whole family helped out. Grandparents and little sister took her out. Dad and brothers got to work on the display to surprise her when she got home.”
“I was really surprised,” Isabella said. “I wasn't expecting it at all. I love what they did with the display. It really cheered me up and it definitely made the end of my senior year better.”
The Bexleys still plan to have a graduation party with their family and a senior trip if possible.
Emily Robertson also found a creative way to honor her son, Seth, a senior at Milton High School. He loves school, so he was really upset about it being closed, she said.
“He is one of those that really likes going to school,” Robertson said. “He likes seeing all of his friends. He was actually on his way to regionals on the weightlifting team – of course that all got cut short with prom and everything that goes with senior year.”
In an effort to appease his disappointment, Robertson started the Adopt a Milton High School 2020 senior Facebook page after seeing several for other schools.
So far, 140 seniors of an estimated 400 have been adopted. The page has more than 900 followers.
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“I have some adopters that are doing a little something every week, and I have some that are doing one big gift basket,” Robertson said. “My son’s gotten Chick-fil-A gift cards, a Whataburger gift card, a Visa gift card and 2020 senior picture frames. He got a thing of balloons.”
Some adopters gift college-themed gift baskets for the senior’s designated school, she said. Anyone can adopt a student, including teachers.
“The people who adopted my son were not related to us,” Robertson said. “He’s going to get stuff from us anyway. The idea was for strangers or people you know – different supporters – to let them know, ‘We’re thinking about you. You’re graduating and you deserve recognition.’”