By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Unlike any other class in contemporary times, the Class of 2020 has the dubious distinction of being the class that stayed home.
Since the end of spring break, Hillsborough County public schools, like schools across the country and world, have been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those long last looks and telling tales of childhood days and signing yearbooks and celebrating prom are not to be for this year’s graduating seniors — at least not in the traditional manner.
But that doesn’t mean new traditions can’t be set.
And that’s what staff and teachers at Riverview High set out to do Tuesday, May 19, with a drive-through shout-out for seniors who were on campus grounds to turn in their books and laptops.
Math teacher Rebecca Lennard said her reasons for being there had everything to do with the seniors, who have shown remarkable strength in light of the unprecedented circumstances of the day.
“This is not the ending that you wanted, or could have anticipated, but you’ve handled it with grace and dignity and that will help you in your future endeavors to handle challenges,” said Lennard, who had goodie bags ready for her trigonometry and AP Statistics students.
Was it harder for the students or for the teachers to say a safe-distance goodbye, unable to hug, respectively, the mentors who have left an impact or the students who, likewise, have left an indelible mark?
“Oh, I think it’s a 50-50 split,” Lennard said. “My kids, in every Zoom [eLearning] session we had, I would cry. They wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see them in the classroom. And that’s why it was so important to us to let them know how important they are to us, as teachers.”
While an in-person graduation ceremony is set for July, that doesn’t negate the importance of walking school hallways one last time, for a more intimate goodbye with classmates and teachers who knew you when, before the world of post-secondary studies, careers and life choices turn you into the adult you are destined to become.
For Riverview High Principal Danielle Shotwell, this year’s goodbye is even more poignant, as it marks the end of her six-year tenure as Riverview High principal. She started her new district job, as general manager for employee relations, Monday, May 18. Her replacement has yet to be named.
“I have very mixed emotions,” Shotwell said, as she handed out to seniors Riverview high school graduation yard signs, compliments of the Hillsborough County Teachers Association.
“I’m excited about my new challenge, but will miss the teachers and students tremendously,” Shotwell said. “I take great pride, and great joy, in being principal of such an amazing school.”
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County school board members have approved revised public high school graduation dates, ranging from Mon., July 13, through Wed., July 22, the day set aside as a make-up day, if necessary. South Hillsborough County graduation dates are as follows: East Bay (4 p.m., July 14), Riverview (4 p.m., July 17), Lennard (4 p.m., July 18) and Spoto (12:30 p.m., July 20). All ceremonies are set for the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall.