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Dallas-Area High School Seniors Cope With a Semester—and Rites of Passage—Cut Short

While shopping for dresses at the Boys & Girls Club Prom Dress Extravaganza, Jummy Loaye, 17, saw her dress and fell in love. “I just knew that’s what I wanted to wear,” the Advantage Academy senior says. Though she didn’t have too many plans, she just wanted to enjoy a special night with her friends. “We’re all leaving high school and won’t see each other as much,” she says. She’d been envisioning her own American prom since before moving to Dallas from Nigeria. “I always knew what prom was, especially because of the movies,” she says. “I wanted to experience it. I’ve shed tears a couple of times over this.” In high school, she was chosen to participate in the Leader in Me Program. “They take students that they believe can lead others and train them,” she explains. “Being chosen for that gave me a reason to be great. It became clearer that the younger ones are watching me; even my little siblings are watching.” This fall, Loaye plans to attend the University of North Texas and study business. She wants to run her own business one day, like her father, who sells Nigerian clothes. Though all the cancellations of senior events have made her sad, she’s trying to draw positive lessons from the experience. “I have learned that most times our plans don’t go through and that even when the plan doesn’t go through, it’s just a setback,” she says. “We get up and raise our heads to achieve higher than planned.”

Trying to navigate the end of high school during a pandemic has been “overwhelming and disorienting,” as Makayla Woods, 17, puts it. “It’s been really confusing for me and a lot of seniors out there,” the Hockaday School student says. “It’s hard trying to plan for something when there are so many variables that you can’t control.”

This month, high school seniors around Texas will celebrate hard-earned milestones and anticipated rites of passage—including graduation, prom, and honor society and Eagle Scout ceremonies—either at a distance, virtually, or both. Many students are experiencing disappointment, grief, and confusion as they try to grapple with this difficult moment in time, as well as what the future might look like. “It’s hard to make sense of all of this, but I’m learning important lessons on how valuable life is and how meaningful the time I spend with my friends and family is,” says Jacob Clarkson, 18, a senior at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas.

Ahead of graduation day, Mary Beth Koeth photographed Dallas-area high school students, like Woods, at their homes, many of them in the garb they would have worn to commencement, prom, and other ceremonies. Their stories capture the range of emotions and considerations students are facing as they emerge into an uncertain world post-graduation. For her part, Woods says she’s been trying to use this moment in a constructive way. “It’s been a good time for me to do a lot of self-reflecting on who I really am,” she says. “I guess that’s a good thing to do before you go to college.”

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Tags: Education, The Culture, Coronavirus, Dallas, High School

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