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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – By this time last year, nearly all graduating high school seniors in North Alabama had already walked the stage. The COVID-19 pandemic cut senior year short for the Class of 2020. Missing those rituals can make it harder to adapt to the future, but they don’t have to.

The Class of 2020 started their senior year like any other — looking to the future.

“Most seniors, they want to do two things. They want to go to prom and they want to graduate,” said graduating senior Kody Purinton.

But COVID-19 canceled or postponed most senior high school traditions for students like Kody.

Sparkman High School’s 2020 class president is now waiting until July to graduate with his classmates, but they’ll miss other milestones.

“There are so many key experiences that they have during that senior year to mark that transition into adulthood,” said University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Student Counseling Services Director Angela Stowe. She said individuals have had these issues before, but said it is unprecedented for an entire graduating class to miss out. Stowe said that can lead to feelings of uncertainty and fear.

“Name it,” said Stowe. “Acknowledge the grief and loss that you have been feeling during this time. It is a big deal. It does make a difference.”

Parents and friends can help by creating new rituals to mark their next phase of life.

“People have done the most amazing, innovative, creative, inspirational things to be able to make this time of their lives still be really special,” said Stowe.

Stowe said the best thing to do is look back with gratitude, something Kody’s embracing.

“We have made it and you know, each step of our life we take, we’re taking baby steps until we reach that step where we want to be off,” said Purinton.

Sparkman High School set graduation day for July 15. A mandatory practice will be held the day before on school grounds to help administrators follow health guidelines.