White Station High School senior Kaitlyn Williams was looking forward to marching with her class at graduation, walking across stage when her name was called and shaking her principal’s hand as she received her diploma.
“I had played out the scene in my mind many times. It was perfect. People were cheering, I waved at family and friends, and everyone kept telling me how proud they were of my accomplishments,” Kaitlyn said.
That was the way it was supposed to play out, but the COVID 19 global pandemic came to the U.S. and spread like wildfire. What started out as an extended spring break marked the end of in-school classes for the 2019-20 academic year.
Stunned seniors all over the country sought to adjust as schools tried to figure out creative ways to celebrate their graduates.
School chums turned to Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, and FaceTime to stay connected.
Kaitlyn, like students all over the globe, was trying to navigate the effects of coronavirus in this unprecedented time.
But Kaitlyn’s parents and aunts had a surprise for her.
They orchestrated a public graduation bash in their Cordova community. Their cul-de-sac was filled with signs and balloons as the surprise parade of family, friends, church members and neighbors drove past a booth honking, dropping off gifts, holding signs, and shouting encouragement from their vehicles.
There were balloons everywhere, grey and green – White Station colors. And “Congratulations Kaitlyn” banners galore.
All that planning, and the savvy graduate had no idea.
“First, I guess I was numb when the school year abruptly ended, but I came to realize that we could not have a normal graduation,” she said. “Also, I wasn’t going to prom, and I was looking forward to it because I didn’t go last year.
“I waited my whole school life for my senior prom. As that reality set in, that neither of those events would be happening, I was very sad.”
Kaitlyn’s mom, Dr. Priscilla Williams, a family psychologist, recognized the emotional devastation she saw in her daughter.
“Children were struggling to understand what was happening,” said Dr. Williams. “Many adults grappled with the sudden change in life as we had known it. The early ending of the school year brought on high anxiety and some depression in children, even very young children.”
White Station planned a motorcade graduation of sorts. That was on June 9, when the graduating class wore their cap and gown, their name was called, and teachers and family lined the grounds of the school to cheer and hold up signs.
Kaitlyn stood up through the sunroof of the car and reveled in the adulation.
Actually, it was her second “graduation.”
The first one was May 30 with the community parade that caught her completely by surprise. Kaitlyn was overwhelmed by the show of love from her family and community. She ran into the street and did a happy dance as the cars kept coming.
“I felt so much joy because I was totally surprised. My mom and Aunt Marlene and Aunt Stephania pulled this all together, and I never had a clue. No, I didn’t have a traditional graduation, but I had two celebrations and memories that will always be with me,” Kaitlyn said.
Melvin Williams, Kaitlyn’s father, couldn’t believe his baby was graduating high school.
“I felt older than I have in a while,” he said.
“But I felt such joy and happiness watching Kaitlyn take in all the love and seeing so many people who were rooting for her. It not only lifted her spirits, but her mother and I were just so happy and grateful.”
Kaitlyn feels thankful and blessed. Looking forward to her next step, she is preparing for college at the University of Tennessee, Martin.
“I think the COVID 19 experience for seniors has changed us,” she said.
“Instead of 2020 being the year of vision, it is for us the year of strength. We are strong. We are survivors. We are SCS senior nation.”