When the class of 2020 stepped into the world, it was the year 2001, the year that devastatingly changed so much in American history. These seniors are now closing their school careers amidst a chaotic situation they will remember: the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shouts of glee and building up of excitement were dashed from the sails of the Wadena-Deer Creek seniors by the coronavirus closures in March. In a surprise response, 54 members of the class of 2020 donned their commencement robes, walked the hallways, received waves and claps from staff members and took a class picture on March 17. Those robes and the emotional response from that gathering swiftly brought smiles back to seniors’ faces, middle/high school principal Tyler Church said.

“It was kind of like a joke at first, the day before we were like wouldn’t it be cool if we wore our gowns to school and did a fake graduation in case we didn’t actually get one? And so then it turned into a real thing,” said senior Graci Hendershot. “A lot of people were tearing up and we were crying but it felt a lot better after doing that.”

After spending a few minutes in the robes, seniors began realizing this might be their last time in the school for possibly months, according to senior Michael Schmidt. This feeling of experiencing their last days continued through the hallways, according to seniors Jasmyn Wood and Jayson Young.

“Definitely a weird feeling being the middle of the school year and it might have been our last day,” Young said.

But hope arrived when the seniors heard from Church. Seniors were given a “bigger insight,” as Hendershot said, on events like prom and graduation that Church plans to reschedule in the summer. Church shared with seniors what they wanted to hear: “we’re not just scrapping all this stuff.”

“Our hope is that we’re back before the end of the school year and if it doesn’t work out that way, it doesn’t work out that way but when it comes to graduation and prom and some of those things, heck if we can do them at the end of June, we’ll do them at the end of June,” Church said.

Seniors began to feel like they might come back and that all wasn’t lost despite being sad, bummed and upset, as Schmidt, Soren Wedde and Young said. After all days, and thus memories, are still being missed.

“Memories mainly,” Hendershot said about aspects of senior year that she’ll miss. “We always make the best of every day and hang out as much as we can so we’re missing that time together.”

Time together participating in the fun events, like senior trip, senior prank, prom and graduation, are supposed to be the good parts of senior year, as Wedde said. Seniors agreed these were some of the memories they were waiting for.

“A lot of thoughts going through my head (on March 16 and 17) was more about the things that we would possibly be missing as seniors, so like prom and our senior trip, even pranks, things like that was a lot of the worry I think going around our senior class at the time,” Wood said.

The school closure also means not competing in certain events like FCCLA presentations and state Knowledge Bowl as well as the monumental task of completing their schooling after 12 years, as Wedde said. Wood and Young also noted the loss of choir.

“I think one that hits me (at) home is our Pops concert that we usually go through because that’s a big recognition for seniors that have been in choir and I’ve been in it since fifth grade as well as a lot of seniors. … I think that’s going to be particularly hard if we have to miss that,” Wood said.

Of course, the canceled events include final seasons of sports, leaving athletes, their friends, family and fans disappointed. Wedde shared his sadness for his best friend Young about not getting to play on the golf team. Young was looking forward to this new venture after blowing out his knee previously.

“I was definitely annoyed,” Wedde said about his reaction to the school closure. “I would have preferred to just finish it off after like 12 years, it would have been nice to finish it how we’re supposed to. So it was definitely aggravating and annoying. But it’s also sad to see your friends that don’t get to do stuff that they were looking forward to.”

Schmidt also noted the boys track and field team that was “set to do extremely well.”

“It’s saddening for me for them because I know how much that means to them,” Schmidt said. “I hope that they are going to get that season that they deserve.”

In the midst of the senior class missing memories, events and lasts with one another, Church said the group is understanding of the bigger picture that other people are impacted in much worse ways. Wedde said, “there’s worse things happening than missing a little bit of school.”

“Mature beyond their years,” Church said in describing the class of 2020. “They get it. They can take that big picture approach to everything and understand that, yeah, we like to have fun but there are more important things in this world.”

Their worlds continue with care for teachers and administration and a desire to complete the National Honor Society Day of Giving, as Wood and Schmidt noted. These five seniors also found ways to fill their time before distance learning began, from video games to completing scholarships.

Along their educational careers, seniors have learned from teachers who impacted them and found welcoming friendships in the class.

“I think my favorite is just mainly we’ve been the same group, nobody’s really left. We’ve had a couple new people come in but then we just bring them in like they were always there and we’ve been close since the beginning,” Hendershot said.

A class of friends that is driven, energetic, lucky and competitive, as Young, Wedde, Schmidt and Hendershot said, they will go far in doing life the right way.

“Determined, for sure,” Wood said in describing the class of 2020. “I think we’ve been through a lot as a class and we’ve always come out the other end better.”

Will the school closure end?

School closures were extended through May 4 following an executive order by Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, March 25. Walz also said in a press conference on April 2 that “students will likely wrap up the school year from home,” according to the Forum News Service.

During homecoming week 2019, senior Graci Hendershot (left) poses with her friends Makaylyn Sibert and Morgan Grangruth on senior color day.
Photo courtesy of Graci Hendershot
During homecoming week 2019, senior Graci Hendershot (left) poses with her friends Makaylyn Sibert and Morgan Grangruth on senior color day. Photo courtesy of Graci Hendershot

The Graci Hendershot File

  • Attended WDC since: Kindergarten

  • Favorite teachers from educational career: Mrs. Schultz

  • Clubs/activities: Cheerleader, yearbook, Student Council, FCCLA, Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities class

  • Senior year memories: Time with friends, homecoming, sporting events

The fall 2019 play "Game of Tiaras" came as a senior year highlight for Michael Schmidt (center right). 
Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal
The fall 2019 play "Game of Tiaras" came as a senior year highlight for Michael Schmidt (center right). Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal

The Michael Schmidt File

  • Attended WDC since: Kindergarten

  • Favorite teachers from educational career: Mrs. Gallant, Mrs. Grendahl, Mr. Patterson, Mr. Hale and too many favorites from high school

  • Clubs/activities: Theatre, baseball, trap shooting, golf, Knowledge Bowl, Student Council, Immanuel Lutheran Church youth council, NHS

  • Senior year memories: Homecoming, Knowledge Bowl, calculus class oompa loompa dance, theatre

The Soren Wedde File

  • Attended WDC since: Fifth grade

  • Favorite teachers from educational career: Mr. Schrode, Mr. Hale

  • Clubs/activities: Trap shooting, Fishing League, theatre, wrestling, football

  • Senior year memories: Snow Week, senior picture on the football field, dodgeball, film studies class, community house

In February, senior Jasmyn Wood (center) spent time reading to kindergarten students at the elementary school.
Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal
In February, senior Jasmyn Wood (center) spent time reading to kindergarten students at the elementary school. Rebecca Mitchell/Pioneer Journal

The Jasmyn Wood File

  • Attended WDC since: Kindergarten

  • Favorite teachers from educational career: Mrs. VanDyke, Mrs. Becker, Mrs. Schultz, Mr. Grendahl, Mr. Patterson

  • Clubs/activities: Theatre, Knowledge Bowl, Student Council, NHS, yearbook, tennis, softball, choir

  • Senior year memories: Time with friends, Mrs. Becker’s calculus class, homecoming, football and volleyball games

The Jayson Young File

  • Attended WDC since: Third grade

  • Favorite teachers from educational career: Mr. Mehl, Mrs. Becker

  • Clubs/activities: Track and field, cross country, Boy Scouts, choir, wrestling

  • Senior year memories: Pranks including at the state wrestling tournament