On Friday, March 13, high school seniors in Clark County and across the state left their classrooms at the end of the day.
They didn’t realize that it would be their last day at school.
The Class of 2020 has experienced a spring like no other, with the usual rites of passage including prom and graduation halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the last month, The Columbian has had the chance to get to know seven graduating seniors. They represent diverse backgrounds and experiences, but are unified in their hope that they soon will enter a world better than the one in which they will graduate.
School: Fort Vancouver High School for International Studies
Future plans: Arceo plans to attend Washington State University Vancouver and go from there to dental school.
Jasmine Arceo has long dreamed of becoming a dentist. She was supposed to start working alongside a mentor in clinical practice this spring at Cascadia Technical Academy.
Then the pandemic hit, and like so much else, the opportunity was lost.
“It’s hard not learning in a classroom,” she said. “We’re learning new procedures through the textbook.”
Arceo has looked forward to graduation for years. She remembers her two older siblings being celebrated at Fort Vancouver’s annual senior assembly, and watching them walk across the stage in their caps and gowns. She was looking forward to the traditional visit to her old elementary school, wandering the halls in her cap and gown to show a younger generation what is possible.
“I spent 12 years of my life dedicated to school,” Arceo said. “For this to take away my senior year is really heartbreaking.”
She’s also worried for her family members, all of whom have continued to work in the midst of the pandemic. Her sister, who works at Oregon Health and Science University, has to be tested for coronavirus every three days.
“I always worry that they come home safe,” she said of her family.
Arceo urged her younger classmates, including her youngest sibling, to make the most of their final months in school. After all, she said, “you never know what could happen.”
“The upcoming class should really not take it for granted,” she said.
School: Camas High School
Future plans: Hashimura plans to study economics at Central Washington University.
It takes a lot to bother Landen Hashimura, though a pandemic is certainly up there.
In 2011, Hashimura and his mother were living in Japan. They’d moved there so she could teach English and he could pursue a Japanese education.
Landen was walking home from school when he felt the first tremors of the Fukushima earthquake. As they eased, he ran home, took off his shoes and tried to call his parents.
Then came an aftershock. Panicked, Hashimura ran outside, barefoot.
“I got scared,” Hashimura said.
Hashimura and his mother returned to the United States shortly after the nuclear meltdown began at the Fukushima power plant.
“That was the final straw,” he said.
Hashimura has been an active student since moving back. He swam competitively, performed in choir and was working. But as the coronavirus news spread, Hashimura knew he soon would be living through another disaster.
“Even before school had actually been temporarily canceled, I expected it,” he said. “I’ve seen so many things in my life that it wouldn’t faze me.”
The biggest disappointment for Hashimura has been the end to his DECA season, a competitive finance and marketing club for students.
Hashimura spent the last year developing a series of videos and lessons for elementary school students to learn about personal finance. The project qualified him to travel to the DECA international competition for the first time. But a week after qualifying, the event was canceled.
“I legitimately think I had a chance, which is insane,” he said. “That was the biggest culmination of my four years.”
School: Vancouver School of Arts and Academics
Future plans: Attend the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, where she plans to pursue a theater degree.
The way Yeshi Berry tells it, the final bow for Vancouver School of Arts and Academics seniors is an event to behold. Graduation is complete with performances and celebrations to showcase the years of work students have completed at the arts magnet school.
It’s uncertain what can take its place, with Vancouver Public Schools in the process of making plans as social distancing restrictions ease.
“We have a special connection with each other where a virtual graduation is not what we’re up for,” Berry said.
It’s a blow to young performers like Berry, who is closing out her senior year with virtual facsimiles of honored traditions, like the annual one-act series that allows seniors to step into the director’s chair.
Some shows couldn’t go on, even online. School cancellations cut short the March production of “The Trojan Women,” the classic play written by Euripides following the fate of the women of Troy after the legendary devastation of their city. Berry had been cast as perhaps the best-known character, Helen of Troy.
“It was crazy,” she said. “We were gearing up and getting ready for closing night, which was the next day.”
Berry and her fellow cast members were lucky, she said. Class breaks later at VSAA than at comprehensive high schools, so she had a chance to visit with her classmates one last time to share their favorite moments from the performance.
“It was nice to get closure,” she said.
This fall, Berry heads to Ashland, Ore., to pursue a degree in theater. She dreams of someday performing in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, although, she acknowledges, that goal may take a bit longer to reach now.
“It’s crazy to take that big step alongside this crazy worldwide pandemic we’re all going through,” Berry said.
School: Hockinson High School
Future plans: Greene is enlisting in the United States Air Force, where he hopes to become a pararescue specialist. He plans to go to medical school afterward.
Braden Greene received an early taste of the economic challenges facing businesses in the midst of the coronavirus.
Greene is a line cook at Galeotti’s Wine Cellar in Battle Ground. As the pandemic forced businesses to close their doors, Greene worked closely with his supervisors to develop a plan to keep the restaurant open for takeout.
“It went very well,” he said. “We had our first weekend, and we had record-breaking nights for all three days.”
Greene is motivated to help people, whether it’s taking groceries to his grandparents or checking on his neighbors.
“I’m worried about those who are struggling with work, those who are struggling to make it normally,” he said. “It makes me think about how lucky some people are. It makes you wish you could do something more to help.”
Greene is missing the usual trappings of senior year, particularly prom and the Hockinson senior campout. He’s not optimistic about returning if the school hosts a fall graduation; he’ll be at Air Force basic training.
In the meantime, Greene is trying to re-create those experiences. On what would have been prom night, he donned a black suit and red suspenders and took pictures with his grandfather’s sports car.
“We’re missing out on something you’ll remember forever,” he said. “We’re going to remember this too.”
But, continued Greene, “Everyone is going to turn out just fine in the end.”
School: Union High School
Future plans: Ashtyn Lopez plans to attend the University of Hawaii to study kinesiology. Lauryn Lopez will go to Boise State University, where she plans to study psychology.
Ashtyn and Lauryn Lopez were lucky in a way. The twins left school with a built-in friend, classmate and sounding board.
“It makes it a lot easier,” Ashtyn Lopez said. “It’s more like a friend to do stuff with.”
These sisters have been doing plenty to stay active since the pandemic began. The pair are enrolled at Advanced Athlete Academy, a training program for off-season athletes that has moved online in the pandemic. They had Advanced Placement exams to prepare for last month. And, as a distraction, they’ve been making plenty of trips out for bubble tea.
Their upcoming college experiences will be the first time these twins have been separated for an extended period.
Both plan to pursue careers in occupational therapy, and both cite the same inspiration: a family friend whose child has disabilities. The girls say they want to help children with special needs live better lives.
“I’ve always liked working with him,” Lauryn Lopez said.
In the meantime, Lauryn Lopez said now isn’t the time to stress or worry. On the day Gov. Jay Inslee announced the extended closure of schools, she posted a short video to Instagram urging her classmates to stay positive, make the most of their quiet time and prepare for the future.
“It’s super important to take that time and step back,” she said in the video.
Ashtyn Lopez agrees. While the amount of free time in her day can be overwhelming, she said she’s working hard to keep some semblance of a normal life.
“Nobody ever saw this coming,” she said. “Knowing everyone is going through it is comforting.”
School: Woodland High School
Future plans: Siple will attend the University of Oregon in the fall with plans to pursue a career in clinical adolescent psychology. “I definitely want to help out some kids and make a difference,” she said.
For Daylin Siple, it’s the little things that hit the hardest, like not seeing the same group of longtime friends at lunch.
“We sit down and play Uno and (other) card games,” she said. “On Thanksgiving we held a ‘Friendsgiving’ feast. I miss sitting with them, having that midday stress-reliever. It’s just not the same.”
Siple had a busy spring ahead of her at Woodland High School when the news came that classes would be canceled. It would have been her last season of softball after four years on the varsity team, and many years on club teams. She’d been playing ball with some of the girls since she was 13, she said. There was prom to look forward to, and activities with friends, now canceled.
Perhaps most significant is the graduation ceremony, where Siple, as senior class president, would have delivered a send-off speech.
“It was going to be a really great opportunity to get that final goodbye and have that moment together,” she said.
Instead, the final memory of Siple’s senior year will be of sitting in her fifth-period class, watching Gov. Jay Inslee announce schools would be closed. It was a moment of shock Siple said she’ll never forget.
“The whole class was in tears, including (my teacher),” she said. “It felt like the whole school stopped in time.”
Siple is slated to start school at the University of Oregon in the fall. Siple doesn’t know what the fall quarter will be like. Will the university be able to pursue its plans to hold in-person classes?
Still, this 18-year-old is staying optimistic.
“You have to go day by day,” she said. “You can’t plan for anything for the future because you don’t know what the future is. You have to hope for the best.”
HOW WE DID THE STORY
Each year, The Columbian highlights impressive graduating seniors, typically unified by a similar theme. Like so much else, this year’s graduating class came to be defined by the coronavirus pandemic.
We wanted to tell the story through the eyes of these students. We sought graduating seniors via social media, reached out to their teachers or heard from their parents. Over the last four weeks, we’ve asked seven students to complete answers to a series of questions highlighting their experiences in this time.