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They should be going to parties and preparing for a trip to Disney World in Florida, but instead the Westford Academy Class of 2020 is caught up in a pandemic virus that requires them to avoid group gatherings.
The curveball that life threw at the graduating seniors would be unimaginable were it not that almost everyone around the world is living through it.
COVID-19 blanketed the globe this winter and spring, killing thousands — many of whom suffered from underlying conditions.
For starters: no in-house restaurant dining, no hair salons, no spring sports — not even a pick up game at the municipal basketball courts. Any of those activities were deemed likely to spread the virus by physicians and other scientists who advised governors to declare a state of emergency and require all non-essential workers to stay home.
Kathryn Cook, hoping to be on her way to one of seven welcoming colleges in September, wondered if the schools would open at the end of the summer.
“I’ve learned to be adaptable because things can change…and not to take anything for granted,” she said, as she spent another day at home texting her friends.
“I don’t like to talk to people on the phone,” she added, “but we’ve been doing that a lot lately.”
Even her ballet classes — so physically demanding — have morphed into virtual classes where they practice at the barre but don’t rehearse dance routines. “It’s a little bit weird,” she said. “It’s more to keep our bodies in shape.”
Cook said she understands why Gov. Charlie Baker shut down the state in mid March to prevent the virus from spreading. But having graduation, prom, and the Disney trip canceled, along with all the other social gatherings and events, “is a big disappointment,” she said.
Together with a team of class officers and educators, class president Matthew Wasylyshyn, asked his fellow students if they wanted a virtual graduation and the answer was no. They wanted to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas just like all the prior graduates in Westford. Until now, family members and friends would gather at the expansive Trustees Field at Alumni Stadium to cheer for the students. The event has become the key rite of passage in a community of 24,000 that puts education at the top of the list. The school district typically ranks high when compared to other school systems in the state.
Wasylyshyn was first elected class president in his freshman year and was re-elected every year thereafter. He and his classmates raised money and planned a prom at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. That plan has had to change dramatically.
“This year we had probably one of the most historic endings to senior year,” Wasylyshyn said. “It was very shocking and hurt a lot of people.”
Wasylyshyn is part of a group of students and deans working to give the seniors a gathering. The group has chosen the weekend of August 7 – 9 as a potential time for a morning graduation ceremony at Alumni Stadium. Wasylyshyn said they are also hoping to schedule a prom at a local venue such as Kimball Farm or the Westford Regency Hotel and Conference Center.
The group has earmarked December 19 as a second choice. The graduation ceremony would take place inside the high school building.
But nothing will replace the trip to Disney World, said Wasylyshyn. “You’re just going to have to get your money back and see if you can plan your own trip,” he said.
At the May 4 School Committee meeting, Principal James Antonelli, said the students, advisors and deans involved in finding solutions for the seniors, researched the matter carefully paying attention to what the seniors wanted to see happen.
“…one thing was evident,” Antonelli said, “…is that The Class of 2020 would like…to be together one last time, and that virtual graduation was something they were not interested in.”