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In an unprecedented school year cut short by the novel coronavirus pandemic, Roanoke Rapids High School principal Jeff White delivered yard signs to the 230 graduating seniors today as staff members riding an activity bus with him whooped and cheered on each stop.

“I never would have imagined a school year would have ended in March,” White said before making the deliveries. “Of course we’ve had online learning that has continued and will continue through the end of May, but it’s not like being in the classrooms with your teachers. I would have never thought in my career of over 20 years I would have seen something like this — it’s just totally different and I hate it for our students and for our staff.”

There has been a range of emotions, he said. “Initially, everyone was glad to get out of school. It was kind of like a snow day but as time has gone on they realize how much they’ve missed, not just in the classroom but as far as athletics, our band, chorus. All the different programs have just suffered. I think the kids are really starting to miss each other.”

White is a father of three children. “I think the social distancing has really had an impact on them. They’re tired of it. If they could go back to school they would today.”

The staff has done its best under the circumstances, he said. “Roanoke Rapids High School has the best staff. I don’t say that because I’m the principal but they have worked hard, they have prepared lessons, they have offered services the best way that they could. They’ve tutored online, they’ve made phone calls. They have spent countless hours trying to work with our students and I just really commend them for the work they’ve put together.”

White calls the situation surreal. “And today is why we’re putting signs out for our seniors to say ‘Hey, we love you and we want to remember you’ and try to make it somewhat special even though we know graduation is going to be different this year but we wanted to do something to honor our seniors.”

For graduating senior Jackson Chang, “It’s been a nice break, I guess. There’s really a lot of things you don’t have to do anymore.”

He says, however, “It’s really kind of boring, too. There’s been a lot of things we haven’t been able to do in school, but I’m kind of looking forward to just going to college.”

Chang will attend East Carolina University and plans to major in computer science or do something in journalism.

The different graduation format this year which will account for social distancing and limits on gatherings hasn’t bothered him too much. “I’ve never really been too much into the whole usual thing. It would have been nice to have like a regular graduation, but I don’t really mind it. It’s like a first time event thing for a lot of people, I guess.”

Kelsey Bierbauer will be attending William Peace University to play volleyball and major in biology. She hopes to get into pharmacy school once completing her undergraduate degree. “It’s really an interesting time. No one’s really done it before but they’re doing a great job handling all of it but it’s kind of unfortunate.”

She wasn’t expecting the sign delivery from her school’s principal today. “This is cooI.”

What she has missed has been spending more time with her friends and doing “ … more senior stuff like the prom and the senior walk. But it’ll be OK. We still get to graduate and that’s a good thing.”

She’s not bitter about the way the school year was cut short. “I understand there’s nothing you can do about it. We need to take the necessary precautions to keep people safe so I understand.”

Her mother Beth said her daughter has taken the shortened school year well. “I think it’s harder on the parents but she can deal with this and come back stronger.”

Mrs. Bierbauer said her daughter has been working every day. “AP classes haven’t ended. She’s been doing hours of work every day. She’s been on the computer. She’s been working really hard and the school’s done a really good job.”

Matt Chambers, a retired teacher within the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District, watched as the principal came by their house to place a sign for his daughter, Mikaela.

“I think they handled it about as well as it could be handled — going within the guidelines and following recommendations science is telling us to follow. I think it’s the best way to go. It’s an inconvenience right now, but we’ll learn how to deal with it.”

There has been frustration and disappointment by the way things happened, the things the family planned leading up to this point. He says, however, “I’ve raised my daughter up and she’s going to graduate. There’s a lot of people in that situation at every level — college level, high school level — life is interrupted. There’s nothing we can do about it other than to deal with it and get through it.”

Mikaela was initially disappointed but is feeling better about the situation, he said. “She perked up when she saw the information about how they’re going to do the graduation. Her mood has been better since she knows there’s a plan for how they’re going to handle that. Our next step is to figure out what to do in the fall when she goes to college.”

Mikaela will be attending the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where she plans to major in history with a focus in education.

“I think they’re doing the best they can considering the pandemic limited what we can and can’t do,” she said. “I’m just thankful I still get to walk across the stage so my family can see me graduate. I’m just thankful we can still do all of that.”

Frustrating in this was she couldn’t see her teachers and couldn’t see her friends that much. “I took one of my AP exams yesterday. It’s frustrating not being in that safe environment but it’s a learning curve because I’m going to college and I will have to regulate myself then so it’s like training for that.”