Communities find ways to honor graduating seniors

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Forest Park High School senior Zach Hopf poses for a portrait beside his senior yard sign at his home in Ferdinand on Wednesday. Each Forest Park High School senior received a sign with their photo as a way to honor the Class of 2020.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

When Indiana’s schools closed for the remainder of the year, local high school seniors and their families knew the milestones they’d looked forward to would have to be put on hold.

Rather than wait around, however, the community found ways to recognize the seniors and still make their last few months of high school special. Yard signs, Facebook posts and a special Facebook group for “adopting” seniors and sending them gifts have all made the cut.

Northeast Dubois senior Ethan Ziegler is one of a handful of local seniors who have been “adopted” through the Facebook group “Southern Indiana Class of 2020.” Melissa Pedigo, a middle school teacher from Clarksville adopted Ziegler and plans to begin sending him care packages this week.

“These kids have worked so hard to get where they are today,” Pedigo said. “I just wanted to do something to let them know that their hard work is not going unnoticed.”

Pedigo knows that some people say, “Oh, it’s just prom,” or “it’s just the graduation ceremony, they’re still going to college,” as if it’s not a big deal. But to the students living through it, it is a big deal.

“This is what they’ve worked 12 years for,” she said.

For Ziegler, the biggest disappointment was the premature end to the basketball season. After winning sectionals, he and his team couldn’t advance to regional play because it was canceled. But he’s grateful to the community and others who have come up with ways to continue to honor him and his peers. And he’s looking forward to getting the care package from Pedigo.

“I think it’s a really neat thing to do,” Ziegler said. “Anything helps during these times.”

Northeast Dubois seniors will also soon have personalized yard signs to add recognition. The Yellow House owner Tiffany Bauer — whose daughter, Jordan, is a Northeast Dubois senior — put together the order after a group of seniors’ moms were discussing ways to honor their kids during quarantine. The signs are meant to be a keepsake and a reminder that the community is thinking of them.

“It’s been an extra hard time on everybody, but I think it’s been a little harder on the seniors,” Tiffany said.

Not only have they lost many of the milestones they were counting on, she said, but they’re also facing a lot of unanswered questions about their futures, such as whether or not their colleges will even open for the fall semester.

A group of Forest Park Junior-Senior High School moms also created signs for their seniors. Two weekends ago, the signs lined the circle drive at the school as community members made the Ferdinand Lap.

“It was really important to me to have them up at least one Friday during The Lap,” said Kelley Schipp, who organized the effort.

Although Schipp organized the signs, it was a community effort. The signs were paid for through a Facebook fundraiser that garnered donations from several community businesses and people who don’t have a senior. The fundraiser raised more than the necessary funds, so the extras were donated to the senior class. The class officers are in charge of planning some kind of event for the class once social distancing restrictions are lifted.

The signs read “We [heart] our senior” and feature the photo the student submitted for the yearbook. For Zach Hopf, the personalization through the photo is the coolest part of the sign. In his, he’s playing the guitar, one of his favorite hobbies.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Hopf said. “It’s nice to have that recognition, and the photo adds self-expression to it.”

The schools, too, are putting in some extra work to honor the seniors by posting short profiles of each of them to Facebook. The profiles include a photo, their plans for after graduation and usually a little bit of biographical information. At Jasper High School, the Facebooks posts are a virtual way to create the Senior Wall they had planned.

“It’s become much more important than we’d planned as awards banquets and other end-of-year events have been canceled,” said Dana Kunz, career counselor for Greater Jasper.

Originally planned to be a hallway mural, Kunz was in the process of collecting the information and photos she’s used to make the posts when schools closed their doors. Rather than scrap the idea, Kunz decided to make a Facebook for Jasper High School — something that had been a topic of discussion for a while — and post the slides there.

As parents, grandparents, friends and the students themselves have commented on and shared the posts, the Facebook page has become a virtual community where the seniors are receiving the recognition and congratulations they’re missing.
“In the end, it’s just a really small token of our recognition of their work,” Kunz said.

Forest Park, Southridge and Northeast Dubois are also posting senior profiles on their Facebook pages.

As the seniors wait for news of if and how commencement ceremonies, awards banquets and prom will happen, the tokens of recognition have been a bright spot, reminding them that their hard work and accomplishments haven’t been forgotten amid the chaos brought on by COVID-19.

Fortunately for some, answers to their questions have come. Northeast Dubois announced this week the plan to hold a commencement ceremony on Saturday, July 25, and a prom on Friday, July 10. Forest Park also plans to hold prom July 10, but their commencement is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, July 18. All the dates are pending social distancing guidelines from the state.




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