Seniors Say No To Staying Home

This fear of missing out tied to a summer without much socialization was the recipe that birthed the not-school-sanctioned Senior Sunrise event. 


Photo by Sam Basich

Sam Basich, Sean Donlan, and Amaia Garay

Since approximately March 19 of this year, the state of California has enforced a state-wide stay-at-home order. The months of lockdown have affected every part of life, not only in California but the entire world, from work and school to social events. Our school issued an extension of Spring Break early into the week of March 17 after all Bay Area counties were ordered into lockdown, effectively shutting down all in-person school and school-sanctioned activities. Shortly after distance learning began, the senior class of 2020 began to reach the conclusion that their senior year was to be canceled, and along with it, all of the senior exclusive events: prom, graduation, Project Grad and of course,  the annual Senior Sunrise. 

Governor Gavin Newsome’s March 13 executive order outlined how schools should conduct distance learning for grades K-12, and the necessary efforts schools’ should keep in mind while students can not be on campus. 

The Office of Governor Newsom´s website listed these efforts to include “educational opportunities via distance learning and independent study, provision of school meals in non-congregate settings, continued services for students with disabilities, and opportunities to support parents in securing care and supervision for their children.” However, this list overlooked students’ social events as a focus of schools. 

Some cities and counties in California have decided to enforce mask-wearing by implementing fines for those who go out in public settings without a mask. While Sonoma County has not implemented these fines, counties in the immediate vicinity have; in Napa and Marin County, individuals can be fined between $25 and $500. So when a large group of students from the class of 2021 organized and attended the traditional Senior Sunrise — an event at the beginning of senior year to commemorate the rising senior class — without socially distancing or wearing masks, there was an uproar in the Petaluma City Schools community. Community members were appalled and disgusted. 

Leaders of our school and at the district level shared some similar opinions and concerns. One recurring concern was not so much the usage of the school’s football field as the event’s destination, but more so about students abiding by the current state laws. 

Principal Dan Ostermann lists these laws. 

“As you know, we are currently under state and county orders that require social distancing and the use of facial coverings. We abide closely to this order to protect the health and safety of our community,” said Ostermann. 

Ostermann emphasizes that requirements are requirements and that nobody is trying to ruin a yearly school tradition, much more, the class of 2021’s senior year. 

“We will do what we can to celebrate your senior year, but ask that you refrain from participating in events that violate school, city, county, and state guidelines,” said Ostermann. 

School Board member and community leader, Joanna Paun, adds her thoughts, including the work being done by our school’s staff members. 

“I feel for students who right now have been cut off from their social circles and the emotional support that provides for the last 5 months; however, there were pictures of the gathering that looked rather large, and no masks were being worn. Teachers and school officials have been working tirelessly to develop and maintain safe practices for when staff needs to come on campus to teach and work, so to see this is very troubling and concerning,” said Paun. 

Many people agree with Paun’s sentiment, including a student who attended the event. A senior student who wishes to remain anonymous shares their experience with the event. 

“I regret going because it was boring, and I was socially distancing, so I would’ve preferred to just sleep. I didn’t really anticipate that many people going. I think people ended up going because so many people spammed it on their [Snapchat] stories, and people didn’t want to miss out,” said the anonymous student.  

This fear of missing out is a prevalent one in the current senior class—many students witnessed the cancellation of prom and graduation for the class of 2019 and fear a repeat this year. This fear tied to a summer without much socialization was the recipe that birthed the not-school-sanctioned Senior Sunrise event.