It was not the senior year Houston's high school students had imagined. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, instead of a spring of going to prom, attending convocations, and dealing with the traditional senior-itis, graduating area students were forced to say goodbye to their schools, teachers, and friends months earlier than they expected. Everything was cancelled, even graduation. Or so it seemed.
However, last Friday, the City of Houston and the Houston First Corporation teamed up to host an in-person celebration for the Class of 2020. No, the students didn't get to toss their tasseled mortar board hats, but each school district hosted its own socially-distanced outdoor event.
"A season meant to be filled with celebration has been replaced with loss and sacrifice," said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a video message shown at all the celebrations, as well as being live-streamed. "But I believe you've gained something more powerful. Each of you has been tested, and you did not falter. You did not give up, which is why we're here today, celebrating you, our future."
The video message also featured words of advice, hope, and celebration from a laundry list of Houston celebrities, including rappers Slim Thug and 50 Cent, Houston Rockets PG James Harden, Grey’s Anatomy actress Chandra Wilson, celebrity chef Christine Ha, Texans’ defensive end J.J. Watt, fashion designer Chloe Dao, and Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles.
"I just want to say congratulations to you," said J.J. Watt. "I know today probably doesn't look how you thought it would look or how you dreamt of it would look when you began your high school career, but that does not take away from what you've accomplished in these last four years, and what you can accomplish moving forward."
Houstonia sent photographer Anthony Rathbun to Wheatley High School's celebration to capture a very unconventional iteration of this rite of passage known as finishing high school.