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NEWS
July 16, 2020

5/27/2020 2:10:00 PM
Pandemic: Life lessons from the coronavirus
JCHS seniors talk about what early end of school year has meant to them
It will be a bittersweet weekend for the Jennings County High School Class of 2020, as they take turns walking the stage individually, in shifts, to receive their diplomas with only family members watching.

To top it off, for the first time in the school's history, there will be two valedictorians - Emily Montgomery, the daughter of Michael and Denise Montgomery, and senior class President Wyatt St. John, the son of Charlie and Tracy St. John.

Kathryn and Kayla Pappenheim, the twin daughters of David and Melissa Pappenheim, are the co-salutatorians.

JCHS Guidance Director Ed Ertel said Wednesday that students earn the two positions based solely on their final grade-point average. A tie is declared when two students' GPAs are within 0.05 points of each other, and that's what happened in both cases.

Ertel said the fact that the salutatorians are twins "is really neat. To have them tie for the position is the ultimate compliment to the girls' work ethics."

Ertel said diplomas and packets are ready to go, and the staff is ready for graduation. "It's going to be a long three days, but we're all very excited to see the kids again."

All four students responded to email questions for this article, asking their thoughts about how this school year ended.

Although she is "somewhat relieved that I will not have to speak in front of a full gymnasium of people, I am also devastated at the same time," replied Montgomery, who plans to attend Indiana University-Bloomington to study chemistry. Her goal is to become an anesthesiologist.

"I was truly looking forward to the experience of having a full graduation, just as all previous classes have received," she said, but adds she is grateful the class will have some form of a ceremony.

"It is the hand we have been dealt and we must learn to deal with it," said St. John, who admits the situation "does not bother me too much."

St. John plans to attend Grace College in Warsaw, where he will study accounting.

"As class president, I want to thank our classmates for being patient with us as we figured out [what to do]. I would also like to thank Mr. Roller and the rest of the staff for working hard on our graduation and being so transparent with us."

The turn of events, said Kathryn Pappenheim, have taught her "to appreciate the little things in life you didn't really think you could miss until you couldn't do them, like going out to eat or visiting your friends."

She plans to attend IU, where she will study apparel merchandising.

"I did not expect to miss the routine of waking up early and having things to accomplish throughout the day."

Her sister, Kayla, agreed. "I have missed the routine that schools require. I have also missed the fun events seniors look forward to at the end of the year."

Kayla also will attend IU this fall to study marketing.

Her lesson: "Do not take anything for granted, and always make the most of the time you have with the people around you."

Montgomery said the pandemic and the shut-down of school to slow the spread of COVID-19 have taught her much, too.

"Live the day in the present, and be safe in every situation," she said. But just as importantly, she's learned to just slow down.

"We all are always planning, working and moving at 100 miles per hour, but sometimes we need to slow down, look around and take in the things and people around us and be thankful for them."

Senior Alexa Boyd, who responded to a Facebook post asking for seniors to talk about how the pandemic has affected them, said the loss she felt most was the cancellation of prom and the senior awards banquet, which was held virtually and posted online this year. "We worked so hard for those scholarships, and now it's like being handed to us over the phone," Boyd said. "But, I completely understand that was the route they had to take, and I'm appreciative of" how school officials have handled it, she added.

Boyd said adults had always told her she would miss high school after graduation.

"I said, no, I have bigger things coming in my life," she said in an online interview in April. "Now I just sit here every day and I want to go to school. School kept me on track; at the beginning, I really slacked, but I finally got caught up."

Boyd said she was in her creative writing class when the teacher got the call that school would be closing. "I just remember thinking, 'OK, no big deal,'" she recalled, adding that later, she and her friends met in the school parking lot and everyone was wondering if they would be coming back.

"I said, 'No, guys, don't worry. We're coming back.' ... I honestly thought it couldn't happen."

As any high school senior does, she said, "I was suffering from senioritis. I was ready for prom. I was ready for graduation. I was ready to get on with college. And now, I just really miss high school."

And she missed out on what she called the "senior shenanigans" that had been planned for April and May.

"That was supposed to wrap it all up and put a big bow on top of the present," she said.

"But now we don't get the present."





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