The Last Bell: Finishing High School In A Pandemic

The Last Bell: Finishing High School In A Pandemic

10:50pm Jun 05, 2020
RJ Reynolds High School
On June 15th, 2020, seniors will drive through this road to collect their diplomas in an unprecedented graduation ceremony for R.J. Reynolds students. GABRIEL MAISONNAVE/WFDD

“March 13th for me started as just another normal day of school...”

That’s how this story begins for Hugh Bray and for almost every student in the WSFCS district. After all, back then we were just beginning to comprehend the impact that the novel coronavirus outbreak was going to have on our lives. When that exit bell rang, nobody thought that it’d be the last time anyone would hear that sound for the rest of the semester. For Bray, it would be the last time, ever.

“I mean, I had heard this sound for the past three years. At a point, it had become a sort of white noise but this time it hit differently. Maybe it was the Universe’s way of telling me to remember what the bell sounded like. Maybe, in the back of my head... I knew that things were about to change for good,” explained Bray.

And they did. For the past two and a half months, Bray and thousands of other high school seniors across the country have struggled to find their footing in this new reality of online classes and Zoom calls. But for Bray things are about to take yet one more unexpected turn as he’s nearing another milestone hindered by the coronavirus outbreak: graduation.

“This is truly bittersweet. Bitter because I won’t be able to graduate with my friends and teachers in a space that we can all share," he says. "Having gone through the K-12 program and working my tail off to get to the point I am today, it hurts not being able to hear your name and walk across the stage with all your peers and friends right by your side. I won’t be able to shake the hands of those who helped me get here.” 

On June 15th Bray will drive up to R.J. Reynolds High School and be in line inside of his car with the other over 300 graduating students. When his turn comes, he will roll down his window, grab his diploma, and drive away. No turning of the tassel. No shaking of hands with the teachers that helped him get there. Not even … an exit bell.