Nothing can replace the excitement Crestwood senior Karissa Chin should have felt when she was on stage in the school’s production of "The Wizard of Oz" as the Scarecrow, her first and only lead role; the freedom Ian Perkins should have felt on his final leadership retreat weekend with friends; or the accomplishment Austin deLaGrange should have felt finishing his final track season. 

"You live out your entire high school career for these moments, and to see them ripped away, it’s hard. I know my parents really hated it too. My mom watched me grow up and she was waiting to see her baby boy at graduation. I know it was really hard for her," Austin said. 

Since the mandated school closure began in mid-March, Portage County parents, community members and school officials have been mourning the loss of this school year right along with the Class of 2020, whose final moments of high school have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

While some experiences — like the final week in a high school surrounded by grade-school classmates — are gone forever, high school officials have been working to reschedule or alter what they can like proms and graduations, and have been finding additional ways to let seniors know that they have the support of the entire community. 

On a recent Saturday morning, for example, the staff at Crestwood High School went all over the district placing congratulation signs in every senior’s yard as a surprise. Typically, the signs are sold to raise for John Marfy’s TV production program, but this year, due to COVID-19, Marfy agreed to forgo the fundraiser and offer them for free as part of a project spearheaded by senior class adviser Jami Cutlip and principal Dave McMahon. 

"Our hearts go out to our seniors who are missing out on once in a lifetime events. We’re hopping to reschedule as much as we can but we don’t know if we’ll be able to do that, so we wanted to do something special and surprise them in some way," Cutlip said. 

Windham did something similar on a recent Friday afternoon. During a publicized parade through the district, the staff made a point to go to every senior’s home and give them a lawn sign as a surprise. The district has also been highlighting individual students in their "Senior Spotlight" posts on their social media channels.

That same day, Theodore Roosevelt seniors were recognized remotely in the school’s annual E3 celebration to honor the Class of 2020’s commitment to employment, enlistment and enrollment, and when Streetsboro seniors drove by the high school to pick up their caps and gowns, they also received gift bags filled with goodies donated by community members.

In three days, the Streetsboro community raised $5,188 to give every one of Streetsboro’s 160-plus graduates $30 worth of gift cards, as well as various treats. Those gift card purchases have also helped local businesses that need community support right now, said Tracy Campbell, a Streetsboro Board of Education member and parent to a Streetsboro senior. Campbell and other senior parents have also decorated their porches in Streetsboro colors and insignia and hung photos of graduating seniors on their front doors. 

"It’s sad that this is how the year has ended. I think having the opportunity for students to have a sense of finality to high school is so important. I would love my son to have his senior prom, graduation and all the traditional things, but you also have to keep in mind that these kids are a whole different breed. People forget that these are 9/11 babies. They are resilient and strong and thoughtful in a way that others aren’t," Campbell said. 

She added that the district has been working to reschedule prom and graduation, and Principal James Hogue sent out a survey to find out what kind of commencement the community wants.

Streetsboro has also offered up its stadium as a possible commencement venue to smaller districts like Windham, which typically holds graduation in the high school gym. Ravenna similarly offered its stadium to Southeast and Maplewood, Superintendent Dennis Honkala said. Several districts have scheduled tentative in-person ceremonies later this summer, but not much has been officially finalized due to daily updates from the state.  

Recently, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Health issued statements regarding high school commencements urging schools to be thoughtful in their commencement plans and highly recommending virtual ceremonies. They have also suggested drive-thru ceremonies and single family in-person ceremonies that would comply with social distancing practices and mass gathering limits. 

In response, the Kent Schools announced its plans to hold a May 30 ceremony at the Midway Drive-in theater, which may also host Tallmadge and Twinsburg’s ceremonies. Each portion of Kent’s traditional ceremony will be recorded, including student speeches and musical performances. The ceremony video and potentially the senior slide show video will be shown at the Midway, the school’s website and social media channels. 

The district stated that in the coming weeks, the Portage County Health Department will determine if their plans are acceptable, and if approved, each graduate will receive one ticket when picking up their diploma at the high school earlier that day.

"We’re working hard to try to give them the recognition they deserve, but most importantly we want them to be safe and healthy," Roosevelt Principal Dennis Love said. "I think they’ll find that there’s many great things they’ll do through the rest of their lives, and I hope when they look back at this moment, they’ll understand the sacrifice they made was for the greater good. There’s no doubt in my mind, knowing our seniors, that they realize that now and that they’re going to make the best of a tough situation."

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@recordpub.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu.