Park City High School’s 2020 class faces a senior year cut short

Jeff Dempsey
The Park Record
Educators are trying to find a way to have a graduation for Park City High School’s Class of 2020.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound effect on life in Park City, from stay-at-home orders to the closure of beloved local businesses.

After Utah officials announced that the soft closure of schools would extend to the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, Park City High School’s 2020 graduating class has had to come to grips with the idea that their last year in high school will not feature the traditional pomp and circumstance. For these students, there will be no prom. There will be no graduation ceremony — at least not when and how they expected it. There will be no typical last day of school, no chance to say goodbye one last time to the place where they spent so much of the last three years of their lives.

PCHS senior Willoughby Staley, for one, is trying to take a practical view of things.

“I’m not really upset that we won’t go back,” she said. “I know those are huge events that you only really get to have once, but we’re also all still just 18. We have so much life ahead of us with more important memories and monumental moments.”

Staley said she also thinks that, in the grand scheme of things, missing out on a graduation ceremony isn’t all that important.

“I think when I look back on this time I won’t be sad that I didn’t get a graduation and be more focused on how the world was then, and how my experience is part of history,” she said. “And we’re a group of kids that all never got a high school graduation, so we’re kind of unique that way.”

That’s not to say Staley is not disappointed about missing out on the last couple of months of activities. It wasn’t just school that shut down, after all.

“I was in a production of the Disney musical, ‘Newsies,’” she said. “We had almost finished our run of the show in Ogden where it was starting and were going to come up to the Egyptian when this all happened. So I am sad we didn’t get to finish that, but at least we got to do some of the run.”

For fellow senior Jack Skidmore, the transition to distance learning has been a difficult adjustment. He said he thought the school’s soft closure would be over in a couple of weeks, as initially planned.

“As the virus seemed to worsen, it got to the point where school looked less and less like an option,” he said. “I was definitely sad when I learned school was closing and worried because I knew it would be a struggle to stay motivated and keep up with my school work online.”

Skidmore said he is disappointed to miss out on so many “senior year memories.”

More than anything, he is missing his friends. They’re all “sick and tired of being at home,” he said.

“I miss being ably to freely hang out with them,” Skidmore said. “Everyone getting on Xbox was fun for a brief period, but I miss being able to hang out with them in person. Obviously I’ll see my friends in the summer when the quarantine is lifted, but until then it’s sad to know that it’s over and high school is beginning to be in the rear view mirror.”

Skidmore was four games into PCHS’s soccer season when the closure was announced. Ever the competitor, Skidmore said he’s having a tough time knowing the season was cut so short.

“We got one league game against Wasatch (High School), and knowing my last game will be a loss against them doesn’t sit very well with me.”

Park City High School Principal Roger Arbabi said the closure hasn’t been easy for the staff, either.

“Initially, there was so much anxiety around the unknown,” he said. “We all wanted to understand the extent of the school dismissal, but being away from the students has been hard for all of us. Teachers want to be working with students in person, not through a computer screen.”

The silver lining, he said, was that they at least had some warning.

“We were really fortunate that our district-level leadership gave us a warning a week before we went to school dismissal,” he said. “Our teachers were made aware and began transitioning to an online format.”

Arbabi said he feels for the students who are grappling with loss. He feels it, too.

“I really miss the spring extracurricular events,” he said. “Everything from competitions and performances to sports. I really feel bad for the students who are missing out on the things that make Park City High School special.”

The message Arbabi wanted to stress, however, was one of pride. Pride in his staff, the student body and the community as a whole.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the entire Miner Nation,” he said. “The teachers who work tirelessly everyday to meet the needs of the students, the students who continue to work daily and parents who are supporting us. The community has also stepped up with help for our students and families who are needing help during these times. I am so lucky to be a part of Park City.”

Staley said that while many of her friends are disappointed over not having a “real senior year,” they’ll at least be grateful to have one less thing to worry over.

“We’re just ready for school to be over so we can stress over the global pandemic and not grades, as well. But we’re going to get through this. It will be OK.”

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