by Jay Abdella
With the closure of lots of schools across the country, many high school seniors are seeing their senior spring dry up right in front of them. For many seniors, realizing that after eleven and a half years the inability to celebrate the last semester of high school is devastating. In my hometown of Wayland, Massachusetts, Kate MacDonald, a mother of a Wayland High School senior, found a way for seniors to celebrate safely. After seeing her daughter devastated over the loss of her semester, MacDonald jumped into action.
“The realization that there will be no senior parties leading up to graduation, and no graduation at least in person or in November, that was a different impact than [losing] senior week,” said MacDonald. “Senior week was like it happens, but not going back to school and we aren’t graduating. I don’t want to be melodramatic, but it was devastating. She went from managing the situation to being very very depressed. That was the moment when I thought we had to do something.”
MacDonald’s daughter wasn’t alone; her entire grade felt the same way. The Wayland mother saw how “my daughter and her reaction and watching and knowing her friends, both male, and female, and knowing how impacted they were by this decision, I felt that the senior class as a whole was just so melancholy and so in the dumps, much more so than the first month of the quarantine.”
MacDonald found support from parents of the community and originally planned for the celebration to be for her daughter and her friends, but she then decided to expand the event to the entire senior class. She then ran into a problem: what is the best way for seniors to be celebrated without breaking social distancing rules? Her first idea was a parade, but she found that there would be too many logistical issues regarding organizing a parade for 200 seniors.
“The issue here is that there are so many logistics that come with organizing a starting parade spot or making sure the kids don’t get out of their cars, it’s potentially 200 kids,” said MacDonald. “What I thought was that instead of doing a parade and organizing that, ‘what if a parade naturally happened where the seniors could be celebrated? We can have them in front of their own homes and next to their family members only and in safe spots and people can drive by within a set timeframe and wave, cheer, yell, and scream, whatever they want to do to celebrate, and that’s really how [the parade] came about.”
(High school seniors drive with their families as they celebrate completing high school)
With the help of the senior class adviser, MacDonald was able to reach out to all of the parents of Wayland students as well as students who attended Wayland High School and lived in Boston. She came up with a plan to celebrate all of the students over the course of several weeks. The idea was that parents could opt-in their children to be celebrated, or just have their kids celebrate others if they were too shy to want to be celebrated. Every week, a convoy of decorated cars would drive through town to celebrate a portion of the grade who would stand outside of their house to take in the cheering crowd. Eventually, the community jumped into the affair.
“The first parade was fantastic. The community jumped in and we see families with little kids lining the streets and they are all waving and cheering. It’s great.”
(Caitlin Newton, a student at Wayland High School stands and smiles on her driveway as the parade of high school seniors drives by)
The planning that MacDonald put into for the senior parade paid off for her and for the senior class. Even though her daughter was hesitant to be celebrated, MacDonald pushed her to stand outside and bask in the cheering. The end result was happiness instead of sadness.
“She’s a social person, but she doesn’t want to be the focus of attention. Her first reaction was, “I’ll drive around and celebrate others, but no way will I be celebrated,” MacDonald said. “Being the mom that I am, I said, “No, you are.” She was part of the first celebration and she smiled through the whole thing; I got a video of her ear-to-ear smiling and cheering.” MacDonald continued, “Afterwards, I remember coming inside and she said, “I needed that,” and that made it for me.’”
MacDonald found her idea impacted many members of the senior class. She found that many of the seniors who participated were sending her messages, thanking her for what she did to raise their spirits during a trying time.
“The number of seniors that have reached out to say thank you and tell me their thoughts and how it changed their spirits after finding out school was not going back into session,” said MacDonald. “The fact that these seniors would take the time to reach out shows their humility. It shows that my idea has an impact that I am thrilled about, one that I could not imagine creating.”