Much has been written about this class of 2020, with many noting that these young people were born as the world was reeling from the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and are graduating in the midst of a global pandemic and social upheaval.
Denied so many of the usual senior milestones, the 3,900 members of the class of 2020 are heading into an uncertain world with a resiliency that they may not yet realize. Because of COVID-19, officials with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools had to scrap the usual commencement ceremony, so there will be no mass throwing of the caps into the air. Instead, there were virtual graduations on Friday and Saturday, and beginning Monday, seniors are invited to walk across the stage in their cap and gown and receive their diplomas at drive-through graduations throughout the area.
We asked five seniors to reflect on the final months of school.
I imagined senior year would be easy, not much to worry about and lots of planning for the future.
As the school year went by, there were some complications and lots of stress looking ahead to the end of the year, but all of that could be tackled in time.
But then one day in my anatomy class, my teacher brought it to everyone’s attention that there was a new virus called the corona, but that it was overseas so we really shouldn’t worry about it too much. We were told to be safe, continue washing our hands and staying clean.
At the moment, I really wasn’t worried that the virus was going to push across the seas. But during the next couple of classes, all of our focus was on the virus. I asked the question: “So is what you are basically saying is that travelers will eventually bring this virus over if it isn’t resolved overseas?” He said “yes” but none of the students worried.
Then one day he told us there were cases in the United States and that it is starting to kill people. We got scared and worried it would get to North Carolina.
When the governor eventually decided to close school down for at least two weeks, I didn’t think anything of it, just online schooling for two weeks. But the governor made the duration longer. When I’m at home, I have lots of distractions that make it hard to get my work done.
Once I thought about how long school was out, the more I thought about how I wasn’t going to be able to go to my senior prom, have our senior day and how most of all, I wouldn’t be able to walk across the stage, which would’ve been a milestone for my family.
I would be the first one in a couple of generations to graduate school and go off to college.
It is difficult to accept that something you thought was guaranteed is no longer possible.
I am mature enough to understand that I am not a victim of the pandemic; in fact, I am one of the luckier ones.
My parents are able to work from home, my family and friends have remained healthy, and my bathrooms, fortunately, are not lacking in toilet paper.
The decision to cancel prom and in-person graduation was an incredibly disappointing blow, but it was not designed to punish seniors. We are simply collateral damage of a force we cannot control.
With this unprecedented period comes a new perspective, however, on the physical routine of school. When I look back on my high school experience, I will not be as sentimental toward the brick and mortar buildings. Instead, I will fondly remember the teachers who built my confidence, the friends who stayed loyal through every silly drama and the innocence of living under my parents’ roof.
While coronavirus was an unexpected reality check, nothing would have prevented high school from coming to an end. However, the people I have met and the relationships I have built will never disappear, even in the presence of a pandemic.
Though our celebrations may not be what we initially expected, the circumstances do not take away from the obstacles we have overcome, the successes we have accomplished and the pride we should feel in completing high school. The Millenium Center may not be selling tickets, but our last dance can be in formal wear across the kitchen. The LJVM Coliseum may have closed its doors, but we can throw our caps around a backyard bonfire.
As we approach our futures, the class of 2020 will never have been more equipped to embrace the unconventional and face disappointment with grace.
After 11 different peaceful demonstrations in Winston-Salem protesting racial injustice in the city and across the country, local artists sent their own message Saturday.
Beginning at 7 a.m., 18 local artists descended on Main Street, outside of Winston-Salem City Hall and began painting in big, block letters “END RACISM NOW #BLM” in the middle of the road. Every letter is its own art piece, with one artist responsible for each character — except for the hashtag, which had three.
Cities throughout America, including Charlotte and Washington D.C., have painted similar messages on downtown streets. The Winston-Salem mural was first envisioned by community organizer Rasheeda Shankle, who said she became inspired to have a street mural here after seeing Charlotte’s.
“We had been protesting peacefully, but this event brings people together from all walks of life,” Shankle said.
The plan came together remarkably fast, with Shankle saying she first started approaching artists on Thursday and got permission to paint the road from Mayor Allen Joines on Friday. It is believed to be the first time in the city’s history a mural has been painted onto a street, Shankle said.
“It went over my head almost,” Shankle said. “The city just answered the call and said, ‘We’re all for it.’”
Shankle commended Joines for his help with the project, and Joines also donated some of his personal money for artist supplies. The Arts Council of Winston-Salem arranged for each primary artist to be paid $250 for their work using a grant program, according to Dara Silver, the Arts Council’s vice president of grant programs and partner relations.
One participating artist, Ariel Carpenter — she is in charge of the “I” — said she hopes the mural will make people take notice of the problems in America, and how they might be contributing to them.
“If they drive past it every day, it’ll be a constant reminder they need to do better,” Carpenter said.
The letters varied in messaging, with some containing the names of Black people killed by police — Floyd, Gray, Taylor to name a few — the Black power fist, a mother holding a child wearing a shirt with the words “Don’t Shoot” and others still undergoing work. All the primary artists were black, according to organizers.
“It sends a big message to everyone that we’re not going to settle for the norm of being oppressed by the government,” Shankle said when asked about the symbolism behind the mural.
As the artists worked throughout the day, several community leaders, including Joines and Mayor Pro Tem D.D. Adams, gave a series of speeches encouraging people to vote and to continue taking action against systemic inequity.
“Words without action mean nothing,” Adams said.
A new report issued this week by Wake Forest University contains 20 recommendations intended to improve an institution that has struggled with race issues in the present and during its own complicated past.
The 84-page document is the final report of the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community, which has been working on this project for the past year. University President Nathan Hatch formed the group to help Wake Forest reckon with its past — which dates back to the days of slavery — and a present marked by several recent incidents of racial bias and long-standing perceptions that minority students and employees are mistreated and unwelcome on campus.
Hatch said in a message to the Wake Forest community Tuesday that he has “great confidence” in the report and will present its recommendations to the university’s Board of Trustees and other campus groups. Hatch also said he plans to form working groups by Sept. 30 to start working on the recommendations.
“The recent and ongoing perfect storm of a global pandemic, an economic recession and civil unrest have brought to the forefront, with renewed vigor, the injustices and inequity that plague our society,” Hatch wrote in his message. “Black lives matter, and this truth has brought us into a much larger conversation about the impact of racism, white supremacy and inequity.
“At Wake Forest,” Hatch added, “we are working to address, however imperfectly, some of our own issues regarding race, marginalization and barriers to the full educational experience. The current state of our nation makes the effort within our own community even more necessary and timely than when we first began.”
The report’s recommendations are grouped into five main areas: student experience, faculty and staff experience, academic initiatives, institutional accountability and community engagement.
One recommendation is that the university should spend more on financial aid and improve its efforts to recruit students of color. Only about 20 percent of Wake Forest’s student body are students of color from the United States — that is, African American, Asian American, Native American and Latinx. The report noted that Wake Forest has significantly fewer domestic students of color, first-generation students and Pell Grant recipients than its peers in higher education and the nation as a whole. Pell Grants are federal scholarships that go to students from low- and middle-income households.
The report recommended that there be more equitable funding of student groups and that Wake Forest review freshman living arrangements to avoid isolation and overrepresentation of minority students in dorms. The report also recommended that Wake Forest reopen The Barn as a student social space. The Barn was popular among multicultural student organizations, but the university closed it after a Winston-Salem State University student was fatally shot there in early 2018.
The report recommended that Wake Forest hire a new administrator to oversee anti-racist education efforts on campus. In addition, the university should improve its efforts to hire and retain faculty and staff from underrepresented groups and ensure more minority representation on the university’s leadership teams.
The report also suggested that the university do more to support local schools and businesses and the larger Winston-Salem community, and it recommended several measures to keep Wake Forest accountable for carrying out the commission’s work.
Hatch said the report doesn’t list the recommendations in priority order. The working groups will hold forums and focus groups to help them decide which recommendations are addressed first and how to carry them out.
The report also includes the results of an assessment, commissioned by the university and completed in April, of campus diversity and inclusion efforts. More than 500 students and employees were surveyed.
While that assessment said student and employees thought Wake Forest had made recent strides to support diversity and racial equity on campus, it bluntly noted that whites and minorities alike “recounted incident after incident of how people of color have been unfairly treated, silenced, and made to feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus.
“The culture of Wake Forest was regularly described as ‘pretty white dominant’ and ‘exclusive’ with daily racism and microaggressions’,” the assessment said, adding that it’s widely perceived that the university “sweeps racial incidents under the rug” and pays only “lip service” to efforts to promote campus diversity. Black students in particular said they felt “isolated” and “alienated” in a “polarized” campus culture that they think caters largely to the white, upper class students that make up the majority of Wake Forest’s student body.
The report comes out after a turbulent period on the campus of the private Winston-Salem university.
In early 2019, a library review of Wake Forest yearbooks — some from as recently as the 1990s — turned up numerous racial slurs, references to lynching and racist images that include photos of white students in blackface. Two current university administrators were photographed during their student days in fraternity groups standing in front of large Confederate flags.
Twelve Wake Forest faculty and staff members received racist and homophobic emails in September. It’s unclear who sent the messages, but the incident seemed to leave some Wake Forest community members shaken.
Earlier this year, Hatch publicly apologized in February during a Founders’ Day speech for Wake Forest’s past association with slavery. Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute, later renamed Wake Forest College, was founded near Raleigh in 1834. The college’s founder, some students and all college presidents before the Civil War owned slaves. The college forced enslaved persons to build and maintain the original campus, and the college added to its endowment through the sale of slaves.
The university’s Board of Trustees two months later formally apologized for the university’s use and exploitation of enslaved persons.
Hatch announced in May 2019 that he would form a commission to examine the university’s current racial climate and propose ways to improve Wake Forest. The 37-member group included university professors, students and administrators. It was led by Erica Still, associate dean for faculty recruitment, diversity and inclusion; and José Villalba, a Wake Forest vice president who serves as the university’s chief diversity officer.
In a video posted Tuesday, Still and Villalba talked about the year-long effort that found the group grappling with many challenging questions about the university’s identity.
Still said critics shouldn’t dismiss the report as a document that will make no difference. Rather, she said, it’s a chance for Wake Forest to put its values into action.
“I am convinced that it’s not simply words,” Still said of the final report. “It’s really an opportunity for us to take all of the passion and the commitment and the understanding that’s coming out of this moment in our country and really begin to do the work on the ground in our community.”
Wake Forest’s student newspaper was largely complimentary of the report in an unsigned staff editorial published Wednesday. But the newspaper’s editorial board said Wake Forest should go further and endorse other ideas, proposed last year by two campus groups, that included creating a zero tolerance policy toward white supremacy on campus. The editorial board also urged students to demand change.
“To approach these issues with earnesty and fervor, white students at Wake Forest must be intentional and undeterred in their efforts to create equity and fully address our university’s relationship with racism, past and present, and specifically adopt anti-racist policies,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. “It is not solely the job of our peers of color to affect change, and it most definitely won’t be done if they are not supported with the same energy that many white students are feeling right now in response to police violence.”
Also Tuesday, Hatch announced that Wake Forest has created a new Center for Research, Engagement and Collaboration in African American Life that will be led by Derek S. Hicks, an associate professor of religion and culture at Wake Forest’s divinity school.
Hatch said the university has hired the first chairman of its new African American Studies program. It is Corey D.B. Walker, now a visiting professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Walker was the founding dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education at Winston-Salem State University.