Man High School senior Dana Goodman fully expected to wear a traditional cap and gown on the day of her graduation ceremony this spring.
A protective mask — not so much.
But the 17-year-old Man resident donned the mask with good humor for a set of tongue-in-cheek (concealed behind cloth, however), keepsake photographs to commemorate the closing days of her high school career during the midst of a global pandemic.
She further captured the moment with a shot of herself wielding bottles of Clorox and Lysol disinfectant like an Old West gunslinger in mid-showdown. Also taken was a picture of her in cap, gown, mask and gloves — seated atop a throne of coveted, recently scarce bathroom tissue rolls.
“My family has always been one to make light of situations,” Dana explained during her stay-at-home hiatus recently. “The past two graduations were not normal for us, because when my brother, Dylan, graduated, he had Stage 4 lymphoma, but he’s fine now.
“We’ve always tried to make best of bad situations, though, so I thought it would be fun to make light of such a bad situation like this. It’s more like a laugh-until-you-cry situation. I always try to laugh instead of crying. It’s sad [what’s happening], but I think its 110% better to laugh.”
Mark Stevens of Man snapped Dana’s unconventional senior photos. A photographer by hobby rather than trade, he said Dana had seen some Easter-themed photos — with a novel novel-coronavirus twist, using a mask — he had taken of his brother and posted on Instagram, and she was inspired to have him shoot something similar for her.
“She came in and asked if I’d be interested,” Stevens said. “She brought in the stuff and I posed her and took them. We were there maybe an hour.”
“I wasn’t quite sure what kind of poses we were going to do,” Dana said. “We took them on the back side of Main Street in Man on April 27. There’s a really cool brick wall there, and he thought it would be a cool background. I thought, ‘That sounds like fun,’ but I didn’t realize was going to lay out in the grass with all these cleaning supplies around me.
“It was, by far, the most fun I have ever had taking pictures, 110%,” she said. “I laughed the whole time.
“And we stayed 6 feet apart. The close-up pictures were taken with a zoom lens.”
She posted the photos on Facebook the day she received them from Stevens. “Everybody loved them, and everyone’s just cracked up. Some friends have said, ‘Ooh, I should do those,’” she said.
An elementary school tutor, Stevens said he doesn’t plan on doing anymore COVID-19-minded photos again, although he did shoot some traditional cap-and-gown portraits for a friend “but nothing really major.”
Dana plans to attend Fairmont State University this fall and major in pre-med biology. She acknowledged that she had had some traditional senior graduation photos taken before posing for the COVID-19-related ones.
“I already had fixed and mailed my announcements — these were solely just for fun,” she said. “My class of 2020 was supposed to all take a goofy picture like that, and we’re going to put them in our yearbook. I think only two other people have taken them, if that.”
The approaching end of her high school career under quarantine has spurred some bittersweet memories, at least a trace or two of regret — and far more than a smidgen of wanderlust, Dana said.
“I’m captain of the Man High School tennis team,” she said, “and it was supposed to be tennis season. They kind of took that out from me.
“I’m one of those kids who doesn’t stay home. My brothers live in Morgantown, and I’m always going to see them. I got a new car in January and, into March, I put 9,200 miles on it. Since the quarantine, I’ve only put 600 miles on it.
“I’m getting graduation money in the mail, though, and I’m waiting to spend that,” Dana said.
Dana’s mother, Tina Brown Goodman, is also adjusting to the topsy-turviness of the standard graduation routine, from a professional as well as maternal standpoint. She has been a teacher at Man High for four years, teaching business and personal finance this current academic year.
“I went to school on March 13, thinking, of course, it was going to be a normal day,” Tina said, letting the sentence trail without the need to elaborate. “This has been a wild year all year. And Man High School has really traditional graduations.”
Tina said the school board tentatively rescheduled the Man High graduation date. “Currently, it’s set for June 25 at 7 p.m. at our football field instead of our gym. This will be the first class in school history that’s ever graduated on the football field.
“The plans are to set up how the Air Force Academy did, with the kids 6 feet apart. The last time I spoke to our principal, the plans are to let the kids each have two guests. We’re going to block off 6-foot squares [for seating] in the bleachers,” Tina said.
She said 95 students are candidates for graduation in the Man High Class of 2020.
At-home academic celebration
Like so many of his peers around the state and nation, Hurricane High School senior Austin “A.J.” Noel has seen his graduation and post-high school paths hit some speed bumps and outright roadblocks.
A.J., 18, received a Promise Scholarship and a scholarship to play tennis at Fairmont State University next academic year, and signing his letter of intent took on a “sign of the times” twist on May 12.
“It’s not going to be the typical signing like schools have, with numerous friends and coaches around,” his mother, Lori Moles, said a day prior to the event. “We’re going to have a small get-together at our house, outside with a small table set up, with several of his close friends and neighbors. We’ll be social distancing. People won’t be hugging him as they normally would; it will be different, for sure.”
“We had a pretty good turnout, about 20 or 25 people, most of which were coaches, friends and family members who’ve pretty much been there the whole way,” A.J. said after the gathering.
“In a time when our world has changed so much, I think it’s extremely important to celebrate our seniors and their achievements in any way we possibly can. I am very thankful for the family, friends and neighbors that made A.J.’s ‘sign on’ a sweet memory,” Lori said.
The swath of public shutdowns has also hampered A.J.’s preparation for his pending collegiate tennis career.
“When I was in middle school, I did a lot of sports, but they were all conflicting in the spring,” he said. “When it came time for high school, I pretty much had to choose and I chose tennis. I was playing five or six days a week.
“Now, basically, all I can do is regular bodywork stuff — push-ups, sit-ups, free weights. It’s really hard to find leg exercises without going to the gym and it’s hard without those weights,” he said.
“He had worked so hard all year, lifting weights, working out in a gym, and, of course, playing on the tennis courts, and, suddenly, they came to a halt. It definitely affected his fitness and he ended up losing weight. It’ll take him a little time to get back,” Lori said.
She said her Hurricane family is also shifting gears and arrangements for A.J.’s scheduled graduation ceremony, which was pushed back from early June to June 29 at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center.
“Everything has changed,” she said. “His senior trip is very much in the air. He had plans to go to Myrtle Beach with his friends right after graduation at the beginning of June, and that obviously isn’t going to happen. My daughter had plans to go to Walt Disney World with her best friend at the end of June, so Olivia is torn between going to her brother’s graduation at the same time. She probably can’t ask another family to change their plans, but who knows if Disney World will even be open?
“I’m definitely going to be there,” Lori said. “We asked some family to come in from Florida for graduation. Whether they can come now still hasn’t been decided. I’m sure it’s that way with a lot of family members. Whether I’m seated alone or surrounded by other friends and family, I’ll be there for A.J.”
“It’s been very hard adjusting to it,” A.J. added. “After you graduate, it’s been a tradition for years to spend Senior Week at Myrtle Beach. We were all planning to do that or spend a week in Florida, but after the virus and all, it’s hard to do that. A couple of friends are going into the military. They leave at the beginning of July, a couple of days after when graduation is supposed to be.
“We’re not going to be able to take a true senior trip, but we’ve been doing some little things when we can. We go on fishing trips and hang out and we went up to my buddy’s farm and did some hunting,” he said.
A.J. said his plans to attend Fairmont State in the fall seem fairly solvent at the moment, however.
“I got a big jump on it. Before the coronavirus hit, I’d already sent in my application and was working on my stuff with the NCCA Eligibility Center. I already had most of that done. It was basically dorming and stuff like that, and I just got all of that squared away earlier this week. Everything is pretty much a go, I think.”
Taking it to the streets
On Wednesday, May 20, the date of their originally scheduled graduation day, a St. Albans “virtual” brother and sister hoped to join classmates and well-wishers for an hourlong, semi-virtual celebration along Sixth Avenue in St. Albans. (With heavy rain forecast Wednesday, the celebration was postponed and is scheduled to go on Friday starting at 6 p.m., instead.)
Wyatt Henley, the son of James and Melissa Agee, and Haley Miller, the Agees’ foster daughter, are graduating together in the Class of 2020. Wyatt is a fourth-generation St. Albans High graduate, as was his older sister, and Haley is this year’s St. Albans High Student Council president.
Melissa, an English and Latin teacher at St. Albans High, worked with St. Albans Mayor Scott James, In Stitches store owner Crissy Asseff, fellow parents and teachers and other community members to organize the Sixth Avenue socially distanced recognition ceremony. Funds allocated by the Kanawha County Commission enabled them to purchase protective masks for the seniors, Melissa said.
Wyatt was set to attend the celebration after the nearly two-month shutdown of regular school activities and the ensuing pivots, losses and delays.
“I’m in the St. Albans High band, and we’ve had to do all our practice online, making recordings of ourselves through Schoology,” he said.
Because of cancellations, Wyatt and his fellow band members were unable to take part in the annual band ratings event and the St. Albans High spring concert, two activities he said he had participated in since sixth grade.
He said he hasn’t had much contact with his classmates since schools closed, but he’s reached out to them via social media. “I’ve been running an Instagram account, posting photos of seniors along with where they’re going to college, what they’re planning to study.
“It’s definitely been hard ever since this started,” Wyatt said. “I’ve watched a lot of things from my senior year taken away. Graduation has been moved all over the place.
“It’s also definitely hard not to be in the classroom. I miss a lot of my teachers. I’ve learned that face-to-face learning is better than learning over the screen. I’m excited that our teachers have done as much as they have to make this all work out for the students, and especially the seniors. I really appreciate that,” Wyatt said.
As for his post-graduation future, the 18-year-old said, “I’m going to WVU to study forensics. It hasn’t affected me in a major way. I got a little scared after the coronavirus started, where WVU was sort of questioning if they’d open in the fall. As far as I’ve heard, WVU is supposed to open their doors at the normal time.”
Haley, meanwhile, has been actively reaching out to classmates.
“I’ve been keeping in touch with friends from school via social media and FaceTime,” Haley said. “However, being out of school has been difficult and definitely eye opening. I think we have all realized how much we take for granted. How blessed we truly were to attend school, be around our family and friends and have amazing teachers.
“As student council president, I wish I could’ve had the opportunity to say goodbye to everyone on the last day and enjoy the end of my senior year with my class. I’ve been going to school with some of my classmates since kindergarten, and it’s sad to not spend our last days together.
“Even though we may not have gotten the ending we wanted to our senior year, we have everyone’s love and support. St. Albans High School and our small town are — and always will be — truly amazing. Despite what’s occurring, our school and town always come together. The Class of 2020 is so thankful for all of the support we’ve received and are grateful for all of the opportunities we’ve been given,” Haley said.
She also plans to attend West Virginia University this fall, majoring in psychology.
“Wyatt and Haley are both honor graduates,” said Melissa, who is also the St. Albans High Student Council sponsor. “They’re pretty outstanding kids, speaking from a teacher and a mom standpoint.”
Nitro High motorcade parade
In a similar vein to this evening’s rescheduled St. Albans High street celebration, the City of Nitro will host an automotive parade to honor the Nitro High School Class of 2020 at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We will line up at the Nitro Boat Ramp about 6:15 to 6:30 p.m. and then proceed down Main Avenue towards the high school. We will make a left on Boundary Street before turning onto Broadway, West 11th and then Park Avenue and end at the library parking lot,” Nitro High teacher Kizmet Chandler said.
One car per senior will be allowed in the parade. Participants will be required to stay in the cars, to maintain social distancing.
Seniors are encouraged to wear their graduation caps and school spirit attire and are welcome to decorate their vehicles.