When Bellaire High School Senior Madison Olds thinks back on the past three months, she does so with a sense of bittersweet nostalgia.
She thinks about the missed basketball, baseball, and soccer games where, as a cheerleader, she didn’t get to cheer her teams on to victory. She thinks about the missed trips to Chick-Fil-A for lunch with her friends.
She thinks about missing her senior luncheon, joining with her cap-and-gown-clad classmates for their senior class picture, and graduation practice — all part of an annual Senior Week that she had been looking forward to since she was a freshman.
“I’m almost glad that we didn’t know that was going to be our last day,” the 17-year-old said, thinking back to March 12, when the Houston Independent School District’s initial two-week closure was announced. “Once we realized — oh, we’re never going back — I think that’s when the sadness really set in.”
Like countless other districts across the country, HISD closed its doors in March, shifting to online classes to slow the spread of COVID-19.
After nearly three months of online classes, group chats, and FaceTime, Olds was cautiously excited to finally see her friends and teachers in person again at Bellaire’s citywide senior celebration, an event hosted by the City of Houston and HISD to celebrate graduating seniors.
Held on June 5 at high schools across the district, the festivities included a pre-recorded video with congratulatory messages from Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and various other elected officials and celebrities.
After the video at Bellaire, Principal Michael McDonough spoke to students and scholarships were distributed. Among the awards was a new scholarship created in memory of Bellaire High School student Cesar Cortes, who was killed earlier this year.
McDonough said he hoped the senior celebration would give his students a safe way to have one final communal experience together on campus.
“Graduation is the best time of the year, every year. Everybody is happy because they all made it … and we get to share that with them,” McDonough said. “As a principal, I get to have a moment with every single one when I shake their hand. Not having that this year has been really hard. It’s a lack of closure.”
For Olds, the celebration was a final chance to celebrate and say goodbye before she heads to Sam Houston State University this fall to study nursing — a desire she said had been reaffirmed by the pandemic.
Donning her cheerleading skirt, a bright red cap and gown, and a blue surgical mask, Olds posed for photos at the celebration in front of a giant “2020” created out of red and white balloons.
Her excitement was tempered only by the caution and poignancy that come with graduating during a year that saw both a global pandemic and the tragic death of one of her classmates.