COLORADO SPRINGS. Looking at the school disruptions caused by the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic of 2020, some of the students that have suffered the most are the seniors whose final semesters and graduations were effectively cancelled in order to stop the spread of the virus. Two graduates and their parents discussed their experiences with virtual graduations and shortened or cancelled sports seasons.
Gus McIntyre was a standout student-athlete at Palmer High School. A graduate of Corpus Christi School, he was featured in the Gazette’s Best and Brightest, putting him among the top 20 12th-graders of the Pikes Peak Region. Twice during high school, he was all-state for cross country and once he was all-state for track. He served as president of Palmer’s National Honor Society and completed the prestigious I.B. Diploma Programme at the school. He received the Daniels Scholarship. An Eagle Scout, he also served as an altar server at his parish from 2nd to 12th grade.
Linnea Wuorenmaa, a student-athlete as well, was an honor graduate at Doherty High School. A parishioner of Holy Apostles, she was in the top 10 percent of her class with a GPA of 4.4754. She earned the rank of AP Scholar with Distinction, which is granted to students who receive an average score of at least 3.5 on all AP exams taken. She was a member of the National Honor Society and received the Academic Award of Excellence for English. She also received the Second Year Varsity Girls Tennis Athletic Letter Award and a Certificate of Merit for Leadership in Link Crew. She merited an honorable mention in the Gazette’s Best & Brightest.
“The suspension of the spring track season was a collective loss,” said Charlie McIntyre, Gus’ father. He explained that the final quarter of senior year culminates the first 12 years of school and, for many students, has the effect of showing how far they have come. In athletic endeavors, students who possibly had a slow start as underclassmen are now beginning to achieve milestones that they couldn’t before, such as reaching a certain time in a race. While Gus was recognized quite frequently for his accomplishments, many of his teammates were just starting to come into their own. Therefore, the cancellation of the track season this spring was disappointing to him because he couldn’t see his teammates achieve what he knew they were able to.
“These were our Saturdays in the spring,” he said. “We cheered for all the kids.”
“I missed out on so much that I had been looking forward to the past four years,” said Linnea. “I feel as though I have been robbed of everything that my senior year would have culminated in.” She will not have her final band concert, playing the trombone with Doherty’s Wind Ensemble. After three seasons, she won’t have a final tennis season at Doherty. She said, “The loss of not being able to see my classmates, most of them for the very last time in my life, and to properly say goodbye has been heartbreaking for me. I will never be able to say my goodbyes to the students and staff of Doherty High School.”
“Gus wouldn’t admit to missing the I.B. exams (which were cancelled),” said Charlie McIntyre, “but the exams top off two years of rigorous coursework and not having them makes the accomplishment feel a little bit — hollow.” McIntyre went on to say that the school made great efforts to recognize students, holding smaller celebrations in recognition of the I.B. students, eventually culminating in a “Zoom” graduation where the valedictorian and the salutatorian got their chance to deliver their speeches.
In another event, the teachers stood outside the school and students drove by, allowing everyone to greet each other. It is said that later in June an in-person graduation will take place at Garry Berry Stadium with only the seniors present, video-streamed to the audience. The athletic director, Christina Miner, set up a ceremony at the stadium where the athletes who were awarded sports scholarships to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) schools could sign their Letters of Intent. Gus won a partial track scholarship to the University of Wyoming, where he will attend in the fall. He will use the Daniels Scholarship for the balance of his expenses.
“Linnea’s graduation was vastly different compared to the graduations of her older sisters, who are also Doherty graduates,” said her mother, Colleen Wuorenmaa. Past graduation ceremonies were held at the World Arena, with a JROTC Honor Guard, bands, choirs, and orchestras all performing live. Linnea and the other 2020 graduates of Doherty had a virtual graduation online. The speeches of their principal, valedictorian, salutatorian, senior class president, student body president, district superintendent and other speakers were all pre-recorded.
Instead of actively walking across the stage and receiving their diplomas, graduates simply saw their yearbook photos on the screen as their names were read aloud. Linnea watched her graduation video from the couch in her family room with only her parents present.
“We think the videos were a great idea, and were well put together, especially given the ‘stay at home’ orders and all,” said Wuorenmaa, “but they are so impersonal compared to a real ‘live’ ceremony.”
Gus is the fourth of six McIntyre children to graduate from high school. Traditionally, the McIntyres have a graduation party in the latter half of the summer, just before students leave for college. “This will probably change this year,” said McIntyre.
At the McIntyre household in the spring, “Things were just sort of weird and flexible,” he said. Five of the six children were home. Hannah, a college graduate, was living at home and working online. The other children were all doing online lessons. He continued that it was nice to see so many of their kids spending time together (their eldest son is married and lives nearby). To make up for the spring losses, Gus and two of his friends planned and went on a three-day backpacking trip. Gus also got a job.
Rich experiences for the Wuorenmaas included a Zoom call with family from all over the world to celebrate Linnea, as well as her cousin who just graduated from college. “We don’t know otherwise if we would’ve known about them (video calls) and been blessed with all our family being able to ‘attend’ such a novel graduation celebration,” said Wuorenmaa.
The other event was the “Spartan Gauntlet.” In the afternoon following their virtual graduation, 2020 Doherty graduates were invited to the Spartan Gauntlet, a sort of mini-graduation parade. They were encouraged to decorate their cars, sit in in the passenger seat in their graduation cap and gown, and have a parent drive them through the west parking lot of Doherty High School. Staff members, standing a safe distance apart from one another, wearing blue and green Spartan spirit gear and masks, were lined up on the sidewalk along the entire length of the school. Holding handmade signs, they shouted out congratulations and words of encouragement as the 2020 graduates processed by from the safety of their vehicles. At the end of the line, in a fitting send-off, the Doherty Spartan fight song was performed by the orchestra director on his violin and the band director on his tuba, as the 2020 graduates exited the parking lot.
“It was so celebratory, following the sober graduation video,” said Wourenmaa. Like many seniors, Linnea experienced varying emotions daily.
“There have been times that I have been incredibly frustrated about everything that I am missing out on, however, there have also been days when I am saddened by it all,” she said, adding that she’s thankful for everyone working on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19. Because of their work, she counts her blessings as often as she can, she said.