By Karen. As I look back over the past few months of living in Michigan during the pandemic, I am extremely grateful for my family’s health and our stable source of income. In mid-March when the Stay at Home orders began, I couldn’t have anticipated the number of weeks my family would be asked to shelter in place. This time together has forced all of us in different ways to adjust our hopes and expectations of what each day of our life will look like and the opportunities it may bring.

My oldest daughter is the most social of our family and she had to spend the past three months completing her senior year of high school online. In America, the last semester of senior year is usually filled with many celebrations and traditions. Unfortunately, it became clear in mid-April that we would not be able to celebrate these typical traditions and we began adjusting how we might still be able to mark this important time in her life.

In late May she was able to celebrate a backyard prom with two friends (socially distanced of course!). While the typical prom involves fancy clothes, a formal meal, and lots of music and dancing this one was much more relaxed. There was some dressing up, carry-out food, and a short dance with their dads. A beautiful night also allowed the seniors to change into comfortable clothes and enjoy a campfire! It wasn’t a traditional prom, but it offered some special memories for my daughter and her friends.

Prior to the pandemic, we had planned to host a graduation Open House in mid-June at a local recreation center that would include family, friends, neighbors, and classmates. While those plans were cancelled in April, we ended up taking advantage of a beautiful Friday night in June to invite a couple of neighbors over to celebrate her graduation.  We had a few photos of her displayed from her school years, individually wrapped food, and seating spaced out in our yard to accommodate social distancing. It was truly special to celebrate her with the people who have known her since she was born and have watched her work her way through school.

The final celebration for seniors is the graduation ceremony which is usually held at a large arena and includes student and staff speakers, musical performances, and a chance to walk across the stage and receive your diploma. Since that was not allowed this year, the school offered a drive through parade to honor each graduate. Prior to the parade, my daughter decorated her car with meaningful sayings and objects representing her high school years.

On the day of the parade, she dressed up in her cap and gown and hopped in the passenger’s seat so she could enjoy all that the parade had to offer. Our entire family was able to be in the car as we drove through the school grounds to a line of teachers and staff cheering on each graduate and passing out t-shirts, good cheer, and diplomas. She was touched to see some of her favorite teachers and call out their names one last time while on school grounds. After the parade there was an online virtual ceremony which featured pre-recorded messages from staff and students and a brief announcement of each graduate’s name. While we all would have loved to experience it in the large arena there was some joy in being in the comforts of our own home and cheering on the graduates together.

As I continue to navigate the challenges of the pandemic, I am mindful of the unexpected joys and celebrations it has allowed me to celebrate with my family. While I grieve with my daughter over all she has missed out on this past semester, I hope that someday she too can cherish these unexpected celebrations because I know I will forever cherish this extra time with her.