After a grueling year away from classrooms, assemblies and other in-person school activities, most high schools in the Portland area have been trying to settle back into regular rhythms and routines while also keeping students and staff safe, as the coronavirus continues to circulate in the community.
But for Mountainside High School's senior class, there's nothing to settle back into — it's all brand-new. This year marked the first that Beaverton's newest neighborhood high school has had seniors in the building for the last weeks of school.
"These last couple weeks, we've tried to chock it full with some of those traditional senior activities, with some slight modification," explained Todd Corsetti, Mountainside's principal.
Despite an unusual mid-June downpour, Mountainside held its first-ever full, in-person graduation ceremony on Sunday, June 13.
"It was very, very wet," Corsetti quipped. "But in spite of that, the kids were all smiling and had great spirits. Will certainly be one to remember."
Corsetti emceed the graduation ceremony. The event also featured several speakers, representing the Mountainside Associated Student Body, the Class of 2021 and Mountainside faculty:
• ASB co-president Johannah Iyasele
• ASB co-president Rylee Poindexter
• Senior class co-president Lucy Doggett
• Senior class co-president Jack Cramer
• Language arts teacher Grant Piros (chosen by student vote)
Even before graduation, Mountainside staff, administrators and volunteers worked hard to give seniors a real "senior year" experience.
They had to cram as many traditional activities as possible into a compressed time period. The first three quarters of the school year were online-only due to the pandemic, and the fourth quarter has been conducted in a hybrid model, with some in-person learning and some distance learning.
On Saturday, June 5, Mountainside held its first-ever senior prom. Like graduation, which took place on the football field, the event was held outdoor to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Thankfully for the seniors, the weather cooperated that evening.
"A lot of them hadn't seen each other for over a year," said Corsetti. "It was a pretty spectacular night."
In the week leading up to graduation, Mountainside hosted a senior awards ceremony in the gymnasium — again for the first time in the history of the school, which opened in 2017 — and the grad night committee put on a "senior celebration," with food trucks, games and raffles, in lieu of the traditional grad night party.
This class of graduates has a special connection to Mountainside. Most of them started at Mountainside in fall 2017, when the school first opened, and they've been Mavericks for all four years of high school.
When Mountainside opened for the 2017-18 school year, it served the ninth and 10th grades only. It welcomed a new class of freshmen in 2018-19, as rising freshmen became sophomores and rising sophomores became juniors. The 2019-20 school year, which was interrupted midway through the second semester by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, was the first at Mountainside with all four high school grade levels.
Mountainside held its first graduation last summer, but as at most other schools, it was limited in scope: a drive-thru ceremony in the parking lot, plus a virtual ceremony that was recorded and streamed for families.
Additionally, Corsetti said, at less than 400 students, last year's senior class was somewhat smaller than the approximately 440 in this year's class — about 400 of whom walked at Sunday's ceremony.
"This senior class is our largest class," Corsetti said.
And even though the Class of 2021 lost the last several weeks of their junior year and the first few months of their senior year to the pandemic — learning from home rather than in classrooms, unable to hang out with friends at school, play school sports or participate in school plays — Corsetti is glad to give them a memorable sendoff to an extraordinary high school experience at a brand-new school.
"The level of joy that I've seen the last couple weeks from the kids, and parents, for that matter, we haven't seen for the past year and a half," Corsetti said. "It is just really validating. It has made those events that much more impactful."
Although he doesn't know how or when, Corsetti believes that having to navigate the "adversity and obstacles" of the past two school years will pay off someday for the Class of 2021. This graduating class has had to cope with isolation, frustration, fear and uncertainty amid the worst pandemic in a century, and along with their teachers and parents, they have had to figure out on the fly how to keep learning, growing and progressing toward adulthood. As challenging as that has been in real time, Corsetti thinks that experience will serve them well later on in life.
"We don't know why they were chosen to go through this," Corsetti said, "but it will reveal itself at some point in the future."
By Mark Miller
Editor-in-Chief, Washington and Columbia counties
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