EducationHamil R. HarrisLocal

Class of 2020 Making Memories Despite Losses

It’s graduation time for the Class of 2020 and while commencement exercises, baccalaureate programs and big family gatherings are being postponed amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many seniors have nevertheless found creative ways to celebrate the moment.

From having photo sessions in the front yard to parading through neighborhood streets, this will be a busy week for the 8,000 students graduating from Prince George’s County Public Schools.

“No prom, no graduation exercises and even the time to pick up the cap and gown has been changed,” said Allison Prince, whose son Trent Crawford is graduating from Bowie High School. “It’s emotional. You think about your time with your child. I have a myriad of thoughts and emotions in my head and in my heart.”

But despite disappointment about the prom and other senior activities, Prince and family members enjoyed a nice Saturday as her son and his prom date Nakya Pack took photos in her front yard as her father cooked on the grill.

“It’s good to take pictures because you still have something to look back on,” said Nakya, who is headed to Frostburg State University to major in business administration. “Everyone has pictures from their past and even with COVID-19, we can say we made something of it.”

During football season, Trent was an All-County player who played linebacker and strong safety. He is now preparing to play college ball at West Liberty University in West Virginia.

Trent said even though he can’t practice or do much outside, “I can mentally prepare by eating right and don’t just sit around.”

But Nakya said this year has been tough.

“I played lacrosse and this year is my last year because in college I want to focus on earning my degree,” she said.

Prince empathized with the children, but said the setbacks will steel them for any other adversity they may encounter.

“These kids have been through a lot and they have made it,” she said. “In the future, they will know to create other ways to get things done because they have overcome so much to get to this day.”

Prince George’s County Public Schools will honor the Class of 2020 with an eGraduation celebration on Saturday, May 30 that will feature Academy Award-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson.

The ceremony, which will air at 7 p.m. on WJLA (Channel 7), will also feature R&B singer Kenny Lattimore, a PGCPS Alumni Hall of Fame inductee, radio personality and comedian Joe Clair, NFL cornerback Joe Haden and local news anchor Taylor Thomas.

“I know this doesn’t make up for not being able to walk across the stage,” said PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson. “The Board of Education and I promise to do everything in our power to give you that moment once these restrictions are lifted.”

Members of the graduating class have expressed a range of emotions as their big day nears.

“I have been going to school all of my life and now I can finally say that I have completed my high school education,” said Alana Harris, 18, who is graduating from Parkdale High School.

Isaiah Harris lifts his sister Alana Harris in celebration of her graduation from Parkdale High School. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
Isaiah Harris lifts his sister Alana Harris in celebration of her graduation from Parkdale High School. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)

Alana, a resident of New Carrollton, also ordered a prom dress and plans to take photos with her friends.

“It was comforting to know that I was not alone because we were all going through the same thing,” she said.

Montaz Dennis, 18, who is graduating from the Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College, plans to attend Alabama State University to major in radio and television communications.

Montaz, who said he also plans to enroll in Air Force ROTC to pursue a career as a public affairs officer, lamented the loss of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that come with finishing high school.

“At the end of the day, our senior year was stripped away from us,” he said. “If you asked any senior, they would tell you that they would have traded anything for a prom, a graduation ceremony or any meaningful experience.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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