by Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (May 28, 2020) – When the Patti Leach Youth Center arranged for a drive-thru graduation parade to take place Wednesday evening to celebrate 8th graders and high school seniors, it rained on the parade. It seemed completely appropriate, though. That’s kind of become the theme for the Class of 2020, which has seen the end to their school year fizzle without all the pomp and circumstance due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
True to the spirit of these resilient students, they didn’t let a little rain dampen their fun or their enthusiasm. Car after car pulled up with kids emerging in caps and gowns to accept a gift bag and take a picture in front of a “Class of 2020” sign affixed to an outdoor wall of the youth center.
Tamara Morgan arrived with her son, Antoine, in his maroon cap and gown that he was supposed to be wearing to graduation on Thursday at Memorial Junior High. (The school has planned a virtual graduation in lieu of the traditional ceremony held at the Serbian Social Center.) Although they were disappointed at not being able to participate in a traditional graduation, Tamara was glad that youth center staff had planned a way to recognize the graduates. “It’s really nice of them to do something like this,” she said. “It was very thoughtful.”
Aneisha Titsworth, Director of the Patti Leach Youth Center, and her staff welcomed graduates and presented them with a bag of gifts and candy. “With all schools closing and social distancing in place, graduation celebrations have been cancelled. I wanted to still celebrate our graduates, both eighth and twelfth grade. It’s important to me to let the youth know how proud of them we are,” she said. “These are moments that they won’t ever get back, and unfortunately their school year has been cut short and they’ve missed out on so many celebratory events, so I thought this was the least I could do.”
During the stay-at-home order Titsworth said the youth center has held online parties using Google classroom, and they have used social media to connect with and check in with members. “Our social media team of Trelissa Moses and Daybreon Thighpen has been awesome with interacting with the youth. We also created a social distancing scavenger hunt where we challenged youth to find items in their homes,” she explained.
Titsworth knows firsthand how the pandemic has affected graduates this year. Her daughter, Anijsha, was an eight grader this year at Memorial Junior High School. “I send best wishes to our graduates and best of luck in high school, college, or trade school. We are so proud of you all,” said Titsworth.
Gabriel Webb stopped by to celebrate her graduation from Memorial Junior High. “Everyone has just been at home and celebrating at home,” she said. “It’s kind of a bummer, but something is better than nothing.”
Brothers Brandon and David Denard, who would have participated in a graduation ceremony this past Tuesday at TF South High School (that has now been rescheduled to June 24 as a graduation parade) also participated in the youth center’s drive-thru celebration. David expressed that he wished he had been able to see his friends more the past couple of months. He said that at first he liked the e-learning and staying at home, but it got old quickly. “I really wish I could have said goodbye to my friends,” said David.
Brandon’s thoughts on the way school ended were summed up in one word: “Unexpected.” Brandon said he plans to attend South Suburban College in the fall and will likely study theatre. David will be attending Southern Illinois University and majoring in psychology or music.
“My hope for the graduates during the pandemic is that I hope they will practice self-care. We are experiencing times that have never happened before,” said Titsworth. “How often is it you get time to spend learning yourself on a deeper level or even connecting with your family? Whether that means reading more, exercising, trying a new hobby or anything that adds to them holistically, I hope they enjoy the break from society and have clear minds and spirits so they can welcome the next chapter of life with open arms.”
The Patti Leach Youth Center is located at 18123 Burnham Avenue in Lansing, Illinois.