One day, during senior Maria Nabih’s fourth block physics class, she and her fellow physics students went outside for a mask break. Senior class head sponsor Mrs. Alisa Engelhard’s window to the Resource Room was open, so Maria went to talk to her. Maria had seen that other schools were coming up with creative, COVID-19 friendly activities for seniors, and she was brewing up an idea. She said, “Hey, what do you think about having a senior sunrise?” Mrs. Engelhard responded with, “I think that sounds fantastic!”
On October 16th, 2020, seniors celebrated their final year with worship, food, community, and a sunrise.
“Once the idea was discussed among many previous class council members,” says Mrs. Engelhard, “everyone was on board.” Senior class sponsor Mr. Jesse Wright says that “We’ve had talks about trying to create some milestones for seniors because we understand that many of the milestones may have been, shall we say, diminished during the pandemic.” Senior class council member Elizabeth Botbyl helped plan the event. She describes the planning process: “For those who still wanted to have a memorable senior year, a bunch of previous members of class council put ideas together and planned breakfast, a worship team, and how students would get there and back to school.”
Rockpoint Community Church was generous enough to lend the seniors their property for the morning. Mr. Wright was glad to see the extended community show their support for seniors.
The planning group had to be careful to follow all COVID-19 guidelines, though. The food had to be pre-packaged and students had to be outside, socially distanced, weather permitting. Some seniors needed someone to drive them from Rockpoint to school, so planners also had to factor in rides.
At 6:30am on October 16, 2020, seniors started showing up at Rockpoint Community Church. “When I arrived,” describes senior Katie Liao, “it was me and a couple other people and it was dark, but when we went to the back of the church there was a pavilion. We were talking and everyone started arriving.”
37 students, about half of the senior class, attended. Online students also had the option to join on the computer and listen in.
After singing worship songs led by senior Will Critchfield, class member Michael Steiginga led a devotional on Psalm 118:1 and 24 and discussed the complications of this year and how to push through them.
At 7:09, the sun would rise. Seniors gathered on the church’s playground to get a glimpse of the sunrise, but unfortunately, there were too many clouds covering the sky. Once the breakfast sandwiches arrived, seniors were no longer interested in the clouds.
The rest of the morning was filled with socializing and a few encouraging words from junior and senior dean Mr. Phil Verrengia. Put simply by Tyler Dykhouse, “It was a chill time for seniors to hang out.”
Students and faculty alike were encouraged by the success of the Senior Sunrise. “Even though the whole grade wasn’t there,” says Elizabeth, “it made senior year feel more real with an actual event.” Katie was heartened because she was not expecting there to be a traditional Senior Breakfast. Remote learner, Cassidy Abma, who came to the Senior Sunrise in person says, “It wasn’t what I expected it to be but I think it turned out well.”
The senior sponsors were more than impressed. “I thought it was amazing,” Mrs. Engelhard praises. I would do it every Friday if you would give me the budget for it.” Mr. Wright also gave his approval: “I think the greatest takeaway is that it’s inspiring to see how resourceful we can be in the face of the parameter of social distancing. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, in a responsible way.”
Sponsors are asking for students to present their ideas for other COVID-19 friendly senior activities. After the success of the Senior Sunrise, they are eager to give the senior class more activities. “On the heels of that one, we are hitting the ground running to brainstorm what else we can do. We are open to suggestions! If people have ideas, please, please speak up about it. Email the council or the sponsors” says Mr. Wright.
Maria concludes, “There ended up being no sunrise, but I think we were still able to make the best out of the situation and have a great time all together. There was an obvious sense of community and it felt like, for a moment, we would have a relatively normal senior year.”