Zoe Boschee, an Owasso High School senior, was still on spring break when she received the news.
Because of the coronavirus, the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s board of directors had voted to close Oklahoma public schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.
“Somebody texted me and I said, ‘Wait. It’s like done, done?’” Boschee said. “That was really hard to process. I kept thinking, ‘No, we’re going back to school and I’ll get to see all of my friends again.’”
But that’s not how it turned out.
Ronan Locker, Owasso’s 2020 valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar headed to Stanford University, said he was thrilled — at first.
“With my senior-itis, it was like, ‘all my dreams are realized. I don’t have to go back to school,’” he said.
Then it hit him: “I would have to miss some of the most important things that happen in senior year, the things that happen the last nine weeks,” he said.
Like many others across the state and nation, Boschee, Locker and about 700 more Owasso seniors lost out on many of the activities, privileges and beloved traditions that go with the final months of a high school career.
But not graduation. Delayed for more than a month, the school’s 2020 commencement exercises finally unfolded Tuesday with 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. split ceremonies in Oral Roberts University’s Mabee Center.
Students in the first half of the alphabet walked across the stage in the afternoon session and the night session belonged to students in the second half of the alphabet.
Graduates had their temperatures taken as they entered the building and filled about 170 chairs, separated for social distancing, on the floor of the Mabee Center and the first four odd-numbered seating rows encircling the floor, with three chairs between graduates.
Each senior could invite four people, and an estimated 3,000 — also observing social distancing — filled much of the remainder of the arena for the afternoon session.
Amy Fichtner, Owasso superintendent, in her address to the 2020 class, said, “You will never forget this spring. You’ll never forget COVID and you’ll never forget the circumstances surrounding it.”
Fichtner expressed admiration for the work of the Owasso faculty and administration in remote educating during the trying time. She also praised “the families of the class of 2020 and the Owasso community. Thank you for your patience, your grace and your commitment to your childrens’ education.”
Locker apologized for including politics in his valedictory address and drew applause when he referenced the civil unrest and protests that have gripped the nation since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.
“If we want to see progress in our lifetime, we all must take action,” Locker said. “Simply ignoring the problem (of racial inequality) will not make it go away. So I’d like to encourage you to educate yourselves on the past, stay informed on the present and fight for a different future.”
Owasso High School Principal Mark Officer urged the 2020 seniors to stay resilient when life throws them a curve. He said there’s probably no better example of that than the coronavirus.
“If we had sat down in August and tried to think of what we could do to blow up their senior years, we couldn’t have imagined this,” he said.
Officer said ORU officials “hung in there with us the last month as we worked so hard to make (graduation) a realistic opportunity. They’ve been great to work with.”
Owasso salutatorian Katy Turner, who is headed to Duke University, said the turmoil of the last three months made the ceremony even more special.
“We have to appreciate it more because it was gonna happen and then it was maybe gonna happen and now that we finally get to go through it, you have to appreciate it a lot more,” she said.
Gallery: See images of Owasso High School’s 2020 graduation at Tulsa's Mabee Center