Ladislas Nzeyimana, a Deering High School senior who is the student body president, poses Thursday outside the school, which will remain closed for the rest of this academic year. He said, “I was hoping we would have one last month to regroup with all the teachers and for all the seniors to be together for one last moment.”  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Graduation. Prom. Athletic seasons. Senior skip day. Class pranks and end-of-the-year celebrations. Banquets and dinners with teachers.

For high school seniors those events are some of the final moments of their high school careers that will be missed or compromised because of the coronavirus.

Schools across Maine have been closed for weeks because of the virus outbreak, but before Wednesday there was a glimmer of hope they could reopen.

That changed, however, following a recommendation from Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin that schools should keep their buildings closed through the school year in keeping with health officials’ advice, prompting many to announce long-term closures.

“We felt this recommendation will allow everyone to make a more informed decision and also allow people to go through what is a legitimate grieving process of letting go of what we had hoped and planned for and instead wrap their heads around this new reality,” Makin said in an interview.

She said the decision was based around guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conversations with other states and feedback from educators that it was difficult to plan for what has been a series of short-term closures that have continued to extend over the last few weeks. Still, the news has not been easy for students.

“It’s really saddening to see,” said Ladislas Nzeyimana, a senior at Deering High School in Portland and the student body president. “I was hoping we would have one last month to regroup with all the teachers and for all the seniors to be together for one last moment.”

“The majority of plans we have for the senior class – all these little events that seniors do every year that we’ve seen throughout our years in high school that we can’t do – it’s kind of a bummer to have all that taken away,” said a classmate, Gabriel M’Bambi. “But I guess the most important thing is to graduate and move on. There’s nothing we can really do about that.”

The students are trying to stay positive while also coming to terms with not getting to see their teachers and friends during their last months of school, figuring out what milestone events like prom and graduation could look like and navigating transitions to college that have also been impacted by the virus.

Zainab Almatwari, a senior at Westbrook High School, said it’s “heartbreaking not being in class,” and she won’t be able to start a part-time job she was counting on to save money for college. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“It’s really heartbreaking not being in class, not doing labs in class or not presenting,” said Zainab Almatwari, a senior at Westbrook High School. “Or just the last day of school – that’s difficult to think about. At the same time, it’s a weird thing for everyone so it’s about trying to balance those thoughts out.”

Almatwari, who is attending Syracuse University in the fall to study public affairs, was planning on working a part-time job this semester and over the summer to save up for college.

“Now I can’t start the job because of COVID-19, so I’m going to have to wait until the summer and that will impact me financially a lot,” Almatwari said. “Moving to college is going to be expensive.”

Other students haven’t been able to visit prospective colleges or attend accepted students days at their new schools.

Aidan Reid, a Deering senior, is hoping to study international relations but is undecided on what school he will attend. He said some schools have moved accepted student days to a virtual format, which has helped.

“That’s something that has also been turned upside down – the whole college process,” said Reid, 18. “Normally we would be going to accepted student days or having different avenues to see what we’re going to do with our lives after high school. It’s a little difficult to navigate that whole process.”

Katie Fitzpatrick, 17, a senior at Greely High School in Cumberland, plans to attend Westminster College in Pennsylvannia in the fall and had been planning to visit over April break. She attended a Facebook Live event instead of the school’s accepted students day, where she said students could ask questions of the college president and other school officials.

“There’s such a switch that happens after seniors come back from April break,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s this energy the teachers can’t control. The students are like, ‘Wow, I can’t wait for that to be me.’ Just the opportunities we are missing to have that energy and excitement, it’s sad.”

For many seniors, the last few weeks of the year are something they have looked forward to the entire school year, if not longer.

Falmouth High School senior Veronica Grobe said, “I’m starting to accept this senior year is over,” but she’s disappointed that she won’t have graduation pictures taken with her grandmother, mother and sister, all Falmouth High graduates. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I’ve been looking forward to graduating from Falmouth especially, because my mom graduated from here, my grandma graduated from here and my sister graduated from here,” said Veronica Grobe, a senior at Falmouth High School. “So I would be a third generation Falmouth grad. I’m still going to be, but not having those pictures and stuff to show for it is a little disappointing.”

Grobe, who is attending Penn State University in the fall, said she also worries that she won’t be able to work summer jobs and that will impact her financially going into college. She said she has been trying to stay positive by making plans for school. She found a roommate last week and they have started to look for housing.

“I’m starting to accept this senior year is over but I hope this kind of starts to clear up so I can have a normal first semester of college,” she said. “I’m holding out hope for that at this point.”

Izzy Chase, a senior at South Portland High School, said students at her school have been coping by connecting on social media, where they have been creating “positivity challenges” and making posts about their favorite high school memories.

“It’s cool to see people coming together,”she said. “We’ve acknowledged that this is not a great situation but we’re making the best of it and we’re still together as a class.”

As schools around the area announced their plans to stick with remote learning for the rest of the year this week, questions arose about what graduation and prom would look like, and many districts said they are working to figure out those details. Some have considered holding the events over the summer as long as there is no longer a need to avoid large groups.

Makin, the commissioner, said one reason the recommendation was made this week to continue remote learning was to give schools adequate time to plan for the end of the year, knowing that the situation with the coronavirus likely would not be resolved by graduation. She said schools could push the graduation dates into the summer or consider virtual ceremonies.

“This is a very hard thing to share with kids who are just reaching that rite of passage that is so important to all of them,” she said. “We empathize greatly with them. We know this will be a graduation no one will ever forget and that they will be joining millions of other graduating seniors in having to find an alternative and innovative way to celebrate.”

Almatwari, the Westbrook student, has been waiting to attend senior prom for the last three years.

“It’s kind of a huge deal for me,” she said. “I’m seeing that everyone is trying to give us those events in person over the summer. I’m just not sure how it’s going to work out.”

In the meantime, Almatwari signed up for a virtual prom being hosted on YouTube for students around the country. She invited a friend in West Virginia to attend with her, though she isn’t quite sure how it will work out.

“I’ve had my prom dress and shoes since last summer,” she said. “So I’m a bit sad because they’re in my closet right now. I just really feel for everyone else as well. It’s sad to think about after trying to just put it away and not think about it.”

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