Senior class president John Gordy remembers exactly where he was when he heard school would be suspended due to the spreading novel coronavirus outbreak.
Gordy was competing alongside fellow students at the state Technology Student Association competition in Athens when it was originally announced schools would be canceled for two weeks. The competition was meant to be a milemarker for his senior year, indicating he was close to the finish because he completed most of his academics and work for clubs in the previous semester and could start putting more attention on socializing with friends and enjoying the remainder of his final weeks in high school.
Another school postponement came and then weeks later, while students remained home adjusting to online learning, Gov. Brian Kemp ordered all public schools closed for in-person instruction through the remainder of the academic year, essentially ending Gordy’s and the entire 2020 graduating class’s final semester at Hart County High School in the blink of an eye.
“Figuring out that I wasn’t going to have that extra time to chill with friends and make those last memories — that hurt,” Gordy said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
Senior year has been different, to say the least, for the 2020 graduating class at Hart County High School, and for seniors across the state who had their final semesters taken from them by no fault of their own. Hart County’s seniors won’t get to attend their last prom in traditional fashion, or the annual senior picnic, among other senior-oriented activities. Even graduation will be postponed until public gatherings are permissible again.
Class valedictorian Samuel Garringer said he isn’t as upset about missing classes as he is about the Track Dogs’ season being upended, just as they were primed to finish atop the region and compete for a state title. If he would’ve known the track team’s most recent meet at Madison County in the middle of the week would be his last, Garringer said he would’ve done things differently.
“I didn’t run at that meet because we had a big meet on Saturday that coach wanted me fresh for,” Garringer said. “So I didn’t even run in our last meet of the season … thinking back now, I probably would’ve run in that meet.”
Senior year is the culmination of all the hard work and it’s upsetting not to be able to finish his final season making lasting memories on long bus rides and overnight hotel trips with the team, Garringer said, but he knows there’s a good reason for the closures.
“It’s not even that I’m not getting to compete. Just going out and practicing, that’s the fun part,” Garringer said. “...But I’ve tried not to be selfish about it because I know people are suffering from it. I know they had to do it for a reason so I’m trying to keep that in perspective.”
Even though he won’t have another meet for the Hart County Track Dogs, Garringer is attending Clemson University in the fall where he will compete on the cross country and track teams.
“The good thing is that I’m going to get (to compete) for four more years in college, but it’s not going to be the same as the guys you grew up with in elementary school, middle school and four years in high school,” Garringer said.
Gordy said all of the spring sports teams were on track to have some really big seasons with so many athletes in the 2020 class, something they’ve all been working for together since middle school.
“This season was the one where we were like ‘Hey, we actually have a shot of doing better than we’ve done in previous years,’” Gordy said. “It was just heartbreaking to hear we don’t have that opportunity anymore.”
Senior Kaimon Rucker, who’s bound for the University of North Carolina on a football scholarship, said he’s sad to miss all of the springtime activities, such as prom and the remainder of track season, but he thinks graduation could be even more special now.
“I don’t have any regrets going through my years. I feel like I learned a lot and I’m continuing to learn,” Rucker said. “Once graduation comes around, I feel like people haven’t seen each other for so long, that night is actually going to be special.”
Gordy, who plans to attend Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), said he’s learned not to take anything for granted. While he knows many of his fellow students are upset about having the remainder of senior year derailed, Gordy encouraged his classmates to think about the good times they’ve had at football games, basketball games and many more events together.
“Just look back on the memories we have made,” Gordy said, directing his comments at the senior class. “Cherish those… That sort of can outweigh the bad times we’re in right now.”
Garringer is encouraging younger students to find what they love to do — and just do it.
“Find what you love. Find what you enjoy doing and don’t wait to do it. Do it now,” Garringer said about what he’s told some underclassmen. “If you just get discouraged by people telling you that you can’t do something … you’re not going to enjoy life. So just go out and do what you love.”
Garringer and Rucker both said they weren’t ready to leave high school until they captured state title rings on the track team, but now the two laughed as they said they’ll race to be the first with an Atlantic Coast Conference championship ring, albeit in different sports. Garringer said the 2020 class could be one of the best classes to come through Hart County, in terms of academics, athletics and extra-curriculars.
“I think the attitude that we take after all of this and after this semester, if we go out just keep a positive attitude and live life to the fullest after this, I think that’s what’s going to define our class,” Garringer said. “Not what we did in high school, what we did after.”