DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Throughout North Texas, Class of 2020 seniors are mourning the loss of proms, senior picnics, and the treasured traditions that should be marking their rites of passage from high school.
But those losses are especially profound for those who lost their school in the October 2019 tornado outbreak.
“Heartbroken,” says Thomas Jefferson High Senior Marysol Ortega, describing the disbelief that hit at the time. “This is my school. My home.”
The 17-year-old senior says “TJ” was where she felt safe.
“This is my comfort zone. This is where I’ve created the memories in the hallways with my friends, teaches, coaches… not being able to finish your senior year, it broke my heart, ya know.”
The high school was temporarily relocated to West Dallas, but it wasn’t all happy days and high fives.
“Having to wake up even earlier to take the bus, it was definitely a struggle, a challenge at first,” recalls Ortega. “Many of my classmates did have jobs to help out at home, they had other responsibilities, they had to take siblings to school and it just became difficult.”
And then came Covid-19 ending the school year for good.
“I am so proud of our seniors,” says Thomas Jefferson Principal Sandi Massey. “All our students are amazing. Seniors this year have been completely thrown for a loop. Not only did they have to miss the last year of school in TJ because of the tornado, but they’ve also lost so many high school experiences. Prom, senior picnic, the traditional graduation.”
And yet, these graduating seniors seem to have mastered the art of resilience.
Ortega becoming the first in her family to earn a high school diploma. She’s heading to UNT Denton in the fall.
“You need to learn when to let go of things that you have no control over, stop stressing about those thing,” advises Ortega– but, then also admitting, “Trust me, it was hard for me at first. I was devastated I won’t deny it, I was heartbroken and questioned everything, but then I was like this is going to prepare me for the future.”
She says finishing her senior year classwork from home has forced her to become more organized and she’s certain that it will help her when she starts college.
So she shares these encouraging words to fellow seniors and underclassmen alike.
“Keep looking forward. It’s not the end. You have to be happy and make the best out of every situation, regardless, regardless, especially if you have no control over it!
Thomas Jefferson’s seniors will graduate virtually on May 27.