Jaedynn Alaniz won’t remember putting on her prom dress, or getting her hair and makeup done in a salon with her friend. She won’t remember wearing that dress with a corsage around her wrist, or her parents taking photos to capture the memory. She won’t remember what music the DJ plays for her first dance in that dress; she’ll never hear it.
Jaedynn’s dress is a soft taupe color, and while posing for a newspaper photojournalist, the afternoon sun behind her made its flowy skirt glow. In the light wind, the tulle hem of the dress caught a few leaves while she strutted across her front yard. That afternoon may be the only time she gets to wear it.
“Of course I have been dreaming of prom since I was a kid,” the 17-year-old Peñitas native said. “I would watch movies and dream of my prom. When my sister went to hers, I couldn’t wait to go to mine.”
The bejewelled dress has hung over the dresser in Jaedynn’s room since she bought it in January. She said it’s perfect, and took it home before knowing the theme of the dance.
But the dress will go unused. Much like plans for American graduation traditions this year, that dress and her cap and gown will never fulfill their purpose.
“There isn’t anything I can do, except say that it is what it is,” she said, looking down at her dress.
Jaedynn is a senior at Palmview High School in Mission, which like all schools across the region that have been urged to comply with social distancing orders, has resorted to online instruction for the remainder of the school year.
For most students, it’s a spring break that will roll into summer vacation. For seniors though, it means that they will not be able to return to the halls they’ve walked through hundreds of times, or have one last lunch with friends in the cafeteria.
It also means that graduation ceremonies and traditional senior events have been canceled or postponed. Unlike the many annual events and festivals across the region that have been affected, graduation ceremonies can’t be rescheduled as easily — the ceremony is usually the last time a graduating class gets to be under the same roof before departing for college.
The reality of ending high school without final goodbyes has left some of the class of 2020 heartbroken. Jaedynn, who has been a varsity cheerleader throughout high school, won’t remember who she sat with at her last cheerleader banquet.
Jaedynn isn’t the only senior who feels robbed of the graduation traditions that culminate one’s high school career. Robert Vela High School senior Danya Selber won’t remember hearing the cheers of her track team at her signing ceremony for committing to run for Trinity University in San Antonio. Brisa Herrera, a senior of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Memorial High School, won’t remember her coach’s speech before her last softball game.
Jaedynn started cheerleading at 2 years old, and has been the team’s captain for the past two years. She said that at the end of every year, the team celebrates with a formal banquet.
“We eat Olive Garden in our school’s black box theater, and there’s a red carpet that we get to walk down and just have fun,” she said. “I’m really sad that I am going to miss that. It’s your final moments with your team, and we have a really strong bond.
“It’s when you say bye to each other and welcome in the new year. It’s so crazy, I never thought I would be in my last year of high school; then I can’t believe it’s going to end this way.”
She added that this year, for the first time, the school’s cheer team was planning to compete in local competitions, which have all been suspended.
“ That’s what you want to do: compete as a senior in the varsity team,” she said. “I feel like I worked my whole life for this. My team, we worked so hard for this, to be able to compete.”
Jaedynn said that she stays up at night thinking about what she will miss about high school.
“I was involved and did so many things, but what I think about are the days when I would wake up and just not feel like going to school,” she said. “The days I was absent because I was sick or not feeling well. I should have gone.
“I know that I am very blessed that my family has not been affected by the virus, but it breaks my heart that I did not get to say bye to so many people. There are just a lot of little things that I did not get to do for the last time that I wish I did, but I am very grateful for everything I experienced.”
Jaedynn is currently deciding between attending Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and the University of The Incarnate Word in San Antonio to study broadcast communication.
The track star
After committing to run track at Trinity University a couple months ago, Danya’s goal since her freshman year at Vela became a reality: continuing her athletic career into college.
Her vision of victory always began with her sitting on a stage, putting ink to paper; but most importantly, she anticipated the moment after signing, when she got to look out into the crowd to see her teammates, coaches and family.
“The signing was about getting everyone together to say, ‘We did it,’” Danya, 17, said. “It was supposed to be a big ‘thank you’ for everyone who has supported me.”
The Edinburg native has competed in varsity track throughout high school and made school history with her 4×1 relay team when she was a freshman, helping the Vela girls track program advance to regionals for the first time in that race.
“My dad and I used to talk about how that was the goal: to get up on that podium, give your speech and sign,” said Danya, who has attended signing ceremonies for friends and teammates with her father. “It’s like the athletic mark of honor, to be able to sign.”
Since committing to Trinity, Danya has been planning her ceremony, carefully strategizing its date with her friends, so that they would be excused from physics class. Though she is planning a private, smaller gathering with her family and a few friends, she said it won’t be the same.
Danya added that she is still struggling to accept that she won’t be returning to campus.
“With high school, you think you want it to end, until it actually does and you can’t get it back,” she said. “It has taken a while to process, I think about how I would want to have one last day to do it again.”
Danya said that she is not upset about her time on campus coming to an end, but instead is saddened by the fact that she spent her last day there unaware that she would not come back.
“I don’t even really remember my last day of high school, all I can remember is having a really cool conversation with one of my coaches during third period,” Danya said. “And that’s about it. I don’t remember what I ate, or what we studied in class — I don’t remember anything.”
“I just wanted to know that it was my last day. It wasn’t the fact that it was over, it’s the fact that I did not know it was over.”
The softball player
Brisa, 18, has played left field for PSJA Memorial’s varsity softball team since her freshman year. She said that she did not know that her game on March 13 against PSJA Southwest was going to be her last.
“I am going to really miss playing with my team,” the Alamo resident said. “I was having a really good season, so I was thinking about how I really hoped that we got to go back, that the rumors weren’t true.”
Last year, the team became district champions, and Brisa was driven to secure the title again.
“We really wanted to become back-to-back champions, because we really could do it,” she said. “We were excited and motivated to get back-to-back because it’s never happened in our school before, and now I guess we are not going to get that chance.”
Next year, Brisa will be attending South Texas College in McAllen to study radiology, so this was her last year playing softball with a team.
She said that before every game, the whole team would spend the night at one player’s home for a “team night.”
“We do it to get our chemistry going and show each other that we all have each other’s backs,” Brisa said.
At the last team night, she said that the team ate burgers and watched “The Lion King.” They also talked about how they were excited to finish the season strong.
Brisa said that though she did not know that game was her last, she did in fact finish strong. The game went into extra innings, giving her more at-bats where she doubled twice.
Brisa said that at every game, she looks into the stands to spot her family, and that she was excited to do the same at her graduation.
“I always look for my mom, even though she is really small, I can always find her by her hair,” she said.
Brisa’s family from San Antonio and Austin were supposed to come down for her graduation.
“I am not going to be able to walk the stage, or have prom. Everyone else got a graduation and all those other events, and then the class of 2020 isn’t going to have that, so I am really disappointed,” she said. But I can’t be upset, because I understand that this has to happen.”