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A touch of class

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Lilli Morrish didn’t have all the details of her plans for senior prom worked out by the end of March.

She and her friends from speech and debate would probably invite fellow competitors to the dance. They’d likely share a potluck dinner beforehand. But details such as what she would wear, or what she would cook for the potluck, remained undecided.

But Morrish also didn’t know that when she left Ashland High School on March 13 that she wouldn’t be going back — and that prom, her final season of speech and debate, and even her graduation ceremony would all be canceled under restrictions due to COVID-19.

“It does just feel anticlimactic,” Morrish said about the end of her high school career. “A lot of these things are just really hard to recreate.”

But as a student body co-president, Morrish has been involved with her school’s efforts to do just that — including conceiving the virtual prom now scheduled for Saturday, intended to replace the nixed Roaring ’20s-themed evening at Ashland Springs Hotel.

Though an in-person prom is just one of many final springtime rituals that upperclassmen, and particularly seniors, are missing out on as schools remain closed, staff, parents and students have rallied to find alternatives. Those virtual events, though far from traditional, aim to capture some of the celebration and closure that seniors say they’re searching for in their remaining weeks until the school year ends.

At Ashland High School, a group of interested staff, headed by the two teachers who oversee the student leadership program, came together early in the closure to begin planning a new prom for students, said Nora Godfrey, leadership events coordinator.

“It’s been really cool to see so many different staff members really step up to make all of this possible,” she said.

Changing the original plan to a physically distanced event that could somehow provide homebound teenagers with fun by their definitions, not just their teachers’, required a team lift.

The new prom will involve similar coordination to make all of its components come together smoothly — more than 30 teachers have volunteered to help on the big night. Gone is the theme of flappers and Gatbsy-inspired opulence. Instead, students like Flora Snowden and Leah Aaronson, two of Morrish’s close friends, have the VIP prom to anticipate now.

In this case, the acronym doesn’t stand for the phrase you’d expect: the letters stand for Virtual Including Pizza, Godfrey said.

The idea, suggested by a teacher, to deliver pizzas to all Ashland seniors who signed up to receive one was one of the group’s bigger breakthroughs, Godfrey said.

“I’m feeling really excited and happy that we are at least doing something to honor all of our students and make them feel recognized,” she said.

Pizzas will be ordered from local businesses including Northwest Pizza and Creekside Pizza, and each delivery will be accompanied by a single rose from Eufloria and Manzanita Home and Flowers.

Some aspects of the virtual event will resemble the dance it was originally planned to be. A DJ will set the soundtrack for the evening from 9 to 10 p.m.; that set will be broadcast through the video-streaming platform Twitch, Godfrey said.

The same format and platform are what Medford’s prom-rescue committee also agreed upon, said Sophie Elam, a junior who has been part of salvaging prom in her own district.

With school staff already navigating the use of video conferencing technology on a regular basis during the closure, Elam said using digital technology to bridge the physical distance was an immediate alternative.

“I think they kind of took that idea and ran with it,” she said.

Medford’s May 16 event, which will include both North and South high schools, is called “A Night Under the Same Sky.” Students will be able to send song requests to DJ Gemineye, who will play from 8 to 10 p.m. on Twitch.

Students who participate are asked to post photos of their evenings using specific hashtags.

Mylia Barretto, a senior who planned to attend prom with her boyfriend, said she’ll probably tune in, but she doesn’t expect to dress up for an evening alone.

“It makes me really sad, but I know they’re trying the best that they can,” she said.

Both organizing groups rejected the idea of a schoolwide video call that all students could be on together, thinking that wouldn’t be appealing. Morrish said such a call would degrade into “an absolute dumpster fire.”

Instead, Ashland leadership is encouraging students to arrange smaller Zoom calls with their friends Saturday night. Students can compete for the prize for the best screenshot taken during their calls.

“Since it is just with close friends, I think that more people are likely to do it,” said Snowden. “Even if they don’t all get dressed up.”

Even as most of the seniors expressed gratitude for the efforts to create some special events during their last few months, most communicate a lingering need to mourn what cannot be.

“It feels good to have these acknowledgments, but it does still suck and it’s still painful,” Aaronson said. “So understanding that seniors are grateful for this but are still pretty upset, and letting them still be upset, is really important.”

Doing so helps boost morale over the fact that the substitute experiences aren’t trying to replicate what traditional prom and graduation provide — rather, they’ll make for unconventional memories of an extraordinary final chapter.

“It’s going to look very different,” Morrish said. “It’s a little bit more personal, and I think that’s a good thing right now.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Ashland High School seniors talk about the prom they had originally planned for and the virtual prom they can now anticipate as schools remain closed through the rest of the year. Video by Robert Hastings.
{ }Leah Aaronson, in a blue dress, Flora Snowden, in a red dress, and Lilli Morrish, in a suit, pose for a socially-distanced portrait in Lithia Park, The three friends are planning to attend Ashland High School's virtual prom{ } May 9 from their respective homes. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]