Class of 2020: They adapt, overcome
Last updated 4/21/2020 at Noon
For The Record
It was hardly a shock when it happened.
They couldn’t be fazed after 14 or 15 years of schooling filled to the brim with upheaval and challenges on top of challenges.
When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott channeled Alice Cooper and announced last Friday that “School’s out … forever,” for the Class of 2020, the young men and women of Orange County did as they have learned during one natural disaster after another:
They adapted. And their past proves, they will overcome.
“It’s been a crazy past four years,” Kiera Figgins of Little Cypress-Mauriceville said.
She watched floodwaters nearly reach her house in the spring of 2016 in the Sabine River floods that washed away the homes of her neighbors in Deweyville.
Then Tropical Storms Harvey in 2017 and Imelda in 2019 inundated her home north of Mauriceville.
“Imelda got crazy,” she said. “In the middle of it, my mom got sick with what turned out to be appendicitis. They had to take her to Louisiana for surgery. Me and my sister had to go to Louisiana to stay with family.”
Keagan Smith of Bridge City has a different disaster memory, Hurricane Ike in 2008.
“We got five feet of water in our house from that. We lived in a FEMA trailer in the front yard for a long time,” he recalled. “I was so little. I remember being in portable buildings out in front of my school.”
Nic Robertson of West Orange-Stark was 4 and attending an early learning program at North School in Orange when Hurricane Rita blew through Southeast Texas in 2005 and left behind downed power lines that knocked most everyone out of their homes and schools for at least a month.
So the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is hardly the Lone Ranger of disruption these young adults have endured.
But while they still have to finish their classwork online for the next six weeks, the traditional school ending celebrations like proms, senior trips, sports playoffs, graduation ceremonies and Project Graduation are out as part of the social distancing mandates that shut down classrooms.
“These sort of things do happen, and there really isn’t anything we can do about it,” Orangefield’s Peyton Beebe said. “It’s sad we missed out on senior year memories, but with coronavirus now, it’s what’s best for the community.”
The coronavirus, which shuttered schools in mid-March, is the latest of school interruptions endured by area students.
After Hurricane Rita in 2005, Hurricane Humberto in 2007 closed schools for some. Two weeks before Ike flooded just about every Bridge City home in 2008, many Southeast Texans evacuated for Hurricane Gustav, which was a relative dud.
In 2009, the swine flu closed schools for two weeks in the spring.
Flooding in 2015 and 2016 affected some in north and east Orange County. Harvey in 2017 flooded buildings at LC-M and Orangefield, forcing students to double up in classrooms or get by on 3-hour split days.
And there was even a real “snow day” in January of 2018.
“It’s crazy to think about how everything has gone,” Bridge City’s Smith said. “We thought this would be a normal year. But obviously, that’s changed pretty quickly.”
“Some people weren’t affected during Harvey,” Brayden Berry of Orangefield said. “This virus, you might not have it, but it’s affecting everyone’s life.
Berry was looking forward to the district tennis tournament.
“I felt like this was the year I was going to regionals,” he said. “We’ll never know what would have happened.
“But this [pandemic] is one of the biggest things that’s ever happened. It’s everywhere. You can’t escape it.”
Berry and Beebe, classmates since first grade, are both planning to continue their education at Lamar University.
“The big thing about Orangefield,” Beebe said, “is it’s such a small community, everybody knows each other. We have a great support system, which is a big thing for the things that have happened, like Hurricane Harvey and now the coronavirus.
“The last day we had at school, we thought we were going for spring break and then we’d be back. I wish we had known more about coronavirus and the high stakes situation it was, and maybe appreciated my last moments in high school more.”
Beebe won the district golf championship a year ago and was hoping to qualify for the state tourney this year.
Smith, who has won a Mirabeau Scholarship to Lamar University and hopes to be a sports journalist, is also a saxophone player who was set to compete in UIL academic competition and at state in band with Bridge City’s 50-member wind ensemble.
“I actually hate it that this is the way it worked out,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do to change it. I’m huge into sports and not having sports [to watch] is tough, too.
“But I’ve found things to do to supplement my online schoolwork. I’m playing my guitar and getting outside as much as I can.”
LC-M’s Figgins, who is hoping to join Stephen F. Austin State’s No. 2-ranked debate team next year, was in the middle of soccer and debate seasons with big plans for both.
Missing the prom is nothing compared to not finishing out soccer.
The team had two regular-season matches remaining and was a day away from Senior Night when the Stay at Home order was given.
“Our captain, Avery Holland, we’ve been playing together for 12 years, and I was so disappointed we didn’t get to have Senior Night,” she said. “I’d been looking forward to that for the past six years. All of us on the team were looking to finish what we’d been doing our whole lives together.
“I was so disappointed.”
And the prom?
“For a lot of people, I know that was kind of disappointing,” Figgins said. “A lot of people spent a lot of money on their dresses. It’s money they need now and it got wasted.”
Social messaging and telephone calls allow the students to stay in touch with their friends, but, “I miss my friends,” was an oft-repeated refrain for this series of senior interviews.
“I absolutely hate that I can’t see my friends,” Smith said. “It’s rough not being able to see the people you spent the last several years hanging out with.”
Another consistent comment was to thank their teachers and school administrators for doing what they can to prepare them to move on to college.
“They’re all working hard to make sure that we’re ready for the end of the year,” Smith said, “but nothing really beats that face-to-face contact.”
They all hope for a graduation ceremony, however delayed.
“They said they’re going to have a graduation ceremony somewhere, someday,” Berry said. “I think my mom’s still trying to plan a graduation party. She wants to do something.”
“It’s disappointing we won’t get the same experience as past graduates, the closure,” Beebe said.
“But it’s what’s best for the community. We have to be OK with it.”