Sparks family adjusts graduation plans after COVID-19 outbreak
By Dave Ongie, News Editor
With a double dose of graduation on the horizon, May was shaping up to be a month packed full of memories for the Sparks family.
Taylor Sparks was set to graduate from ETSU’s College of Nursing, a hard-earned accomplishment marked with a traditional pinning ceremony and a walk across the stage inside the MiniDome. Meanwhile, Taylor’s sister Tori – a senior at Science Hill – was gearing up for prom, which was to be followed closely by her own graduation ceremony. The family was then planning to go on a cruise to celebrate everything the young ladies had accomplished.
All those plans were jeopardized around spring break when the COVID-19 outbreak began to disrupt daily life. As the days and weeks progressed, all the plans the Sparks family had made fell by the wayside one by one.
“For me, I have always been very sentimental, looking forward to every milestone in their life, and that is what hurts me,” said Charity Sparks, the girls’ mother.
Improvisation became a way of life during the month of April. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Taylor and Tori’s graduation ceremonies, the family decided to go ahead and create graduation announcements. Charity took her own photos since senior photo sessions had to be canceled. Plans for a graduation party eventually had to be scrapped, as did the cruise, leaving the Sparks’ looking for creative ways to mark all of the milestones.
In the meantime, both girls have been busy finishing up their senior years by completing online coursework. Taylor also worked hard to complete her demanding clinical work. Both Taylor and Tori said the uncertainty surrounding their graduation ceremonies started to sink in when they were unable to return to school following spring break.
“Once going back to school was postponed after spring break, I realized we might not get the normal graduation,” Tori said. “I’m a little upset I will not get the senior year that I was expecting, but I had a good time while it lasted.”
As Taylor wrapped up her final semester of coursework at ETSU, she found out her graduation would be held virtually on May 9. Her pinning ceremony has been postponed, but she was able to celebrate her graduation with family last Saturday and her close-knit nursing class has been using technology to stay in touch.
“We were looking forward to getting to celebrate our accomplishments together with special events like the pinning ceremony where we celebrate together as a class with our instructors as well as graduation,” Taylor said. “It is sad that we will not get to celebrate together, but we have been congratulating each other during our virtual class meetings and through phone calls.”
While Taylor’s college experience has come to an end, Tori is preparing to embark on her own journey into higher education this fall. Tori has a 4.0 GPA and will attend Montreat College, where she will continue her soccer career.
Charity said Tori has a prom dress hanging in her closet that may never be worn, and her 18th birthday was spent at home under quarantine. But Charity takes solace in the fact that Tori and her Science Hill teammates were able to finish their soccer season last fall with a trip to the state tournament. High school athletes competing in spring sports saw their seasons end abruptly when the virus began to spread in March.
“We look back now and see how blessed we were that her team was able to finish their senior season,” Charity said. “My heart breaks for those seniors who play spring sports. These kids have lost so much.”
Science Hill has announced plans to hold a graduation ceremony for seniors over the summer, but Tori is already spending a good deal of time preparing for college. She has attended a virtual orientation and is participating in Zoom sessions with her college soccer coach to get ready for next season.
For the Class of 2020, much has been lost, but Charity is trying to focus on the unexpected gift she has gained during this most unique spring season.
“This virus was unexpected,” Charity said. “It wrecked our plans, and it has taken a lot from us. But it has also given us the gift of time – time with Taylor before she goes off and starts her nursing career, time with Tori before she leaves to start her college experience.
“So although my heart breaks for all the things lost, I am grateful for the late nights staying up talking, driving to Cook Out to get milkshakes, the car rides to nowhere just singing songs out loud, and the slowing down of the fast pace we have been living for years.”