‘No final goodbyes’: Local NHS seniors in shock over schools closing

Chandlor Buffalo, fourth from right, was on the Railiners dance group while school still was in session. Wendy Nugent/Newton Now

By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now

If nothing else, Chandlor Buffalo’s going to remember one thing from her senior year at Newton High School, the shuttering of Kansas schools before she had the chance to learn more in class, attend prom and be honored at graduation, all because of a pandemic that’s threatening lives worldwide.

“It all just doesn’t feel real,” she said. “It really sucks to have to miss my senior prom, but I’m more OK with missing prom rather than graduation. I’m involved in competition dance at Newton Performing Arts Center. Competition season has been put on hold as well as my senior recital. As of right now, all my dance classes are virtual.”

She still has a number of memories from her last year in high school, including those of the Friday night lights.

“How much fun it was dancing on Friday nights at football games, it’s sure a great feeling and to dance under those lights with some of my best friends was such an amazing feeling,” she said about memories. “Just seeing everyone in the student section participating and all rooting for the same team. I loved every minute of it, and the team dinners we would have before every game gave me some amazing memories as well.”

She said she wasn’t sure if the school still was having graduation ceremonies or not, but she said her family is planning on doing something special when they’re able. The official word from the school district is graduation ceremonies are cancelled as of now.

“I’ll miss being able to walk with my class because, for most of us, this is what we have been waiting for since we were little; this is what our parents have been waiting for since we were little,” she said. “The senior class has worked so hard the past 12 years to get to where we are at today, and it just hurts not getting the closure that most seniors normally get at the end of the year.”

When Buffalo heard school was cancelled for the rest of the year, she was sad.

“It broke my heart,” she said. “I was really looking forward to all the lasts I would get to experience with my classmates–our senior prom, senior skip day, touring our elementary schools, graduation and so much more. We haven’t even taken our class picture yet. I know ending school early was absolutely necessary because of everything going on, but it still doesn’t make it hurt any less. These are the people we have known our whole lives, and now it’s abruptly ended. No formal goodbyes to our friends or the teachers or anyone.”

Buffalo said there are things she’s missing from school. Those include playing H-ball in gym class and burning hash browns in cooking class. She’s also missing reading her speeches for STUCO and messing up announcements every time.

“Laughing non-stop about the most random things and just having a fun time with people who have taught me a lot about life,” she said. “Being able to not only learn from my teachers but learn from my peers. Learning different things about a person and why they are the way they are. Where they came from and who they want to be after high school.”

Another student, junior Diego Aguilar-Maldonado, also wasn’t real happy about school being called off. He’s on the RaileRobotics team, which had been working on a robot for competition for about six weeks.

“Kinda sucks, but it’s for the greater good—flattening the curve and all that,” he said.

He said the group’s talked about having a smaller competition in the summer, possibly in Salina. But they’re not sure.

“We think there might be a lot of interest in that because of the main one getting cancelled,” he said.

Another senior, Eli Blauffuss, also is affected.

“It’s definitely a shame to have to miss all those final send-offs for high school,” he said. “It feels like for the past four years of high school, it all builds up to the final quarter of your senior year, and having that taken away is hard to deal with. I was really excited about my last prom and going with all my friends. I was also very excited for my senior track season. I was about a second off from the school 400-meter record and had hoped to finally get that this year, but that’s no longer a possibility.”

The thing he’ll remember the most from his senior year is the pandemic.

“I guess the thing that I will remember most about my senior year is all of this chaos,” he said. “This has certainly never happened before. Even in times of war, the U.S. still kept its schools and its colleges open, and people were allowed outside, and social distancing was unheard of. I think we’re probably the only senior class that has ever attended Newton High to ever have something like this disrupt our year in the way it has. I will certainly remember it for the rest of my life.”

He also talked about graduation.

“At this moment, I think the general idea is that graduation will not be occurring, but that they’re taking it on a day-by-day basis to see if plans can be made to celebrate us in some form or another,” he said. “Missing graduation is definitely another big moment of high school that we have been robbed of due to this pandemic. As for my family’s plans, if the virus is bad enough to keep graduation cancelled, we might have a small family get-together but not a full party.”

He also was shocked upon hearing school was cancelled for the rest of the year.

“When I first heard that schools were cancelled, it all felt very surreal,” he said. “I’d never heard of anything like it happening before, and it was all so sudden. At the beginning of the month, the virus seemed like such a coastal problem that would only be an issue for big cities and would have little impact on my life.”

He said that within a few weeks, the situation changed dramatically, and that the world was at a standstill, his high school experience included.

“Some of my lowerclassmen friends were excited that school as we knew it was over, but my fellow seniors and I understood that there wasn’t another chance to redo our senior year and that it was essentially over,” he said. “It still hasn’t entirely registered, but I guess you just have to roll with the punches.”

He will miss a lot at school.

“When I think of the things I miss most about school, I always think of the people and the routine it provided,” he said. “There are so many people that I am friends with in a school environment but don’t see them much outside of that environment. The strange thing is that when I left school for spring break thinking that I would return a week later, it was the last time that I will see many of my classmates for the rest of my life.”

Another senior, Erik Jantz, also experienced difficult feelings after learning he’d not get to experience various last-year-of-school milestones.

“I personally experienced something very similar to the five stages of grief,” he said. “Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. At the end of the day, it’s all about how we choose to deal with it. Yes, it’s disappointing, frustrating, depressing and any other synonymous emotion you can think of. It’s not just that we lost those opportunities, we lost the experience of knowing in the moment that the event is our final one. After a disappointing track season last year, I was excited to put my seven years of training into one final season. I no longer have the ability to give 110 percent for one final hooray. We as a senior class have to look back and remember what we were able to accomplish.”

He said it’s easy to characterize the whole year by the pandemic we currently face.

“That fails to acknowledge the other three-fourths of the school year we did experience,” he said. “I will remember how happy I was to be able to run everyday at cross country practice with the best teammates one could ask for. I’ll remember the support I received from my coaches, teammates, friends, and teachers. I’ll remember the solo my band teacher gave me for our Marching Band show, our cross country team getting second at regionals when we were supposed to get fourth, and my scholars bowl coach trusting me with the role of captain at TOC. It’s easy to remember the negative, so it’s up to me to remind myself how many amazing things happened as well.”

He was caught off guard upon hearing school for the rest of the year was cancelled.

“The year cancelation was definitely pure shock,” he said. “After the initial second of shock, you being asking questions. What does this mean for all of my AP classes? Will there be AP exams? Is track and field done? Surely this is all an overreaction. The process of going through the stages of loss then begins.”

There are things he’s missing from school right now.

“As we get farther into the year it might change, especially with the imminent stay at home order,” he said. “As of right now, it’s track and field. I was waking up each day, purely excited to go to track practice. If you were to ask me this question in a month though, I would most likely say the social interactions with all of my friends, mentors, and role models. School is the primary avenue for all of that.”

Senior Grant Treaster also experienced some emotion regarding this matter.

“It is a very sad time for my fellow classmates and I missing out last prom and all those who were in a spring sport who worked so hard for it year round, summer and winter training, just to not even get a chance to play or run and make a name for themselves,” he said. “I was not in a spring sport so It didn’t effect me in that way but obviously sad for those who I am close with seeing them heartbroken over this.”

He was shocked to hear the news.

“I was in pretty much disbelief,” he said. “I wouldn’t think they would cancel school indefinitely and it took a while to figure out that I had my last day of school right before spring break. You look back wishing you would of known it was your last day to share those memories with everyone and appreciate little things throughout Newton High.”

There are things he misses at school, but he’s also keeping busy.

“Definitely missing being with friends and some of my favorite teachers,” he said. “I don’t miss the stress and homework and tests, but I will miss being with some of my favorite teachers and classmates in that kind of learning environment. As of right now, I am doing a lot of running and exercise. I am also getting my pilots licenses through Hesston College, so that keeps me busy flying and enjoying some weird cycles of weather in Kansas.”