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Polk high school seniors grapple with canceled events, graduation


POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – While most of us know that our lives will get back to normal eventually, high school seniors are missing out on once-in-a-lifetime milestone events as they prepare to set out on their own.

“Once I’m done with the online school, the real world starts and I just kind of wish I would have been able to enjoy that with my friends,” said Ruben Cienfuegos-Osorio, a senior at Ridge Community High School.

8 On Your Side spoke with three Polk County high school seniors about the ways the end of their high school career turned out differently than they expected.

“We were excited to be that class for people to look up to and it’s kind of been, like, stripped away from us. It is heartbreaking,” said Czerise Villiers, a senior and student athlete at Lake Gibson High School.

The pandemic has affected athletic scholarship eligibility for track-and-field athletes like Villiers.

Courtesy: Czerise Villiers

“The entire NCAA eligibility situation is just shut down so a lot of colleges just stopped recruiting for spring sports. They’re not allowed to recruit and students can’t showcase their abilities,” she said.

ACT and SAT testing have been canceled and it’s been difficult to get official transcripts to give to colleges as well.

Colleges and universities have been understanding, the students said.

The big question right now is what to do about graduation.

Polk County Public Schools is polling the district’s 5,800 seniors on how they would like to graduate.

The four options are: traditional ceremony in June or July (depending on CDC guidelines), a virtual graduation or a drive-thru ceremony.

Seniors have until April 30 to vote. School officials will then make a district-wide decision for all schools.

Courtesy: Diana Garcia

“I want something to go right this year,” said Diana Garcia, a senior at Fort Meade Middle Senior High School. “So that’s why I voted for the drive-thru one. Because it will happen this year and we’ll still get everything this year and it will be kind of unique. We graduated out of our cars.”

Garcia plans to attend Traviss Technical College.

“Just seeing everything like slowly and slowly get canceled and canceled was really something heartbreaking to see,” she said.

She says her class has continued working on its senior mural but almost all other events have been canceled.

That includes prom.

All three seniors saw their prom canceled.

Cienfuegos-Osorio’s cancellation came the day after he bought his suit.

Cienfuegos-Osorio showcases his suit for prom

“One way or another, I’m wearing the suit because I’m not going to let that money go to waste,” he said.

His classmates are planning some kind of event this summer.

“A lot of my friends are like, we’re still gonna take pictures in our prom dress. We’re gonna go in our backyard because we didn’t buy a prom dress for nothing,” said Villiers.


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