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Campus & Community

The Senior Year They Never Had

From Prom to Grad Bash to Classic ‘M’ Photo, Class of ’24 Finally Gets to Celebrate in Style

By Annie Krakower

woman takes a video selfie of herself and other dancers on dancefloor

Madison Alvarez '24 takes a video of the dance floor at the prom. She was one of hundreds of students who turned out for a high school tradition this year’s graduating seniors missed in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Prom photos by Stephanie S. Cordle

In the lead-up to Baltimore native Omoleye Adeyemi’s senior prom, she knew she wanted her attire to honor her Nigerian roots for the big night. She’d had a traditional dress custom-made for her in her family’s home country, and she waited eagerly to buy her ticket to the event.

Then COVID happened, shuttering schools and canceling not only prom, but senior trips and pranks, College Decision Day, graduations, parties and other end-of-year milestones and celebrations for the Class of 2020.

“Junior year, I didn’t go to junior prom because I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll go to senior prom, that’s when it really matters,’” she said. “It was quite upsetting for me, because when I look back, I don’t really have those memories.”

Four years later, Adeyemi, now president of the University of Maryland’s Senior Council, led the group in organizing what it called “the prom we never had,” with hundreds of Terp seniors putting on suits and bow ties and slinky dresses for the dance in the Stamp Student Union’s Grand Ballroom on Friday night. The event, which featured a “Great Gatsby” theme, a DJ and hors d’oeuvres from Good Tidings, was free of charge thanks to support from Omicron Delta Kappa, the Alumni Association, the Division of Student Affairs and a Pepsi Enhancement Fund grant.

four people stand in front of a black backdrop having pictures taken
From left, seniors Anna Chen, Angela Cheng, Lars Knudsen and Augustine Morinigo pose with Roaring Twenties props at Friday night’s prom at the Stamp Student Union.

The prom was just one part of a Senior Week that also included a field day, a screening of “High School Musical 3,” a bar crawl and Grad Bash, where students enjoyed a photo booth, raffle prizes, music and the annual “M” photo at SECU Stadium—another tradition the Class of 2024 didn’t get to experience as freshmen.

“This is the class that missed out on a lot of things,” said Adeyemi, who wore a different purple, sequined Nigerian dress to the UMD prom. “We wanted to be the face for that to push students to come out to different events, to participate and to gain all of the experiences that they missed out on when they were in high school.”

Marina Costa, public health science
“I lost my dad to cancer right before my freshman year. I was also really worried about my mom during COVID because she’s immunocompromised. When UMD moved classes online that year, I was really happy because I could stay home and keep her safe. It was tough emotionally, to cry and then pop into a Zoom class, but I found so many amazing people, like Eujin Lee ’23, one of my best friends to this day that I met through an Honors seminar.

“This fall, I’m going to George Washington University to get my master’s in public health. During COVID, I thought, ‘Someone should really track these infections.’ Turns out, they were! That’s why I’m studying epidemiology.

“I’m looking forward to my graduation party back home in Hanover, where my mom is going to make traditional Brazilian food—I’m excited to share my culture and celebrate! Everyone should try the bolinho queijo, small fried cheese balls. They’re a burst of flavor in your mouth. It’s joy. It’s love.”

Warren Dansou, public health science and biochemistry
“I got my cap and gown in high school, but I didn’t get to go to graduation. Now, I’m getting my cords and it’s kind of nice. I’m looking forward to wrapping everything up, having that time to—knock on wood—go through all the senior activities and go to my college graduation and support my friends at theirs.”

Siddharth Dudla, finance and information systems
“My first year of college, I was at UMBC, and that was completely remote. I transferred here to Maryland at the beginning of sophomore year. I remember having to wear a mask, and I could only take it off once I got home. It was pretty frustrating, just because that was my first real year of college, and I didn’t feel like I was getting the full college experience.

“I’m very excited to go to the Smith School’s graduation ceremony. My family will be there to see me graduate, so that will be great, and I think my friends will be there too. I’m excited about the whole process since I never really got to experience it.”

Nicholas Enoch, government and politics
“One of my favorite memories from UMD would have to be my time when I was working over the summer as orientation advisor. I really got the opportunity to connect with a lot of incoming freshmen and transfer students and get to know them, as well as showing them around campus and giving them advice about how to succeed at the university.

“I’m really excited to be able to experience a college graduation with everybody and be able to attend the main commencement ceremony as well as my own specific major graduation. When I got my associate’s degree, I didn’t get the opportunity to walk across the stage. So I’m really glad to have the opportunity this year.”

Lily Hagopian, public health science (Instagram Stories submission from @lily.hagopian)
“It’s cool to finally be celebrated the way we deserve instead of being told we are resilient for missing so much of what we should have had.”

Sara Harbison, civil engineering
“Freshman year (at Maryland), I had a Zoom class with some of the people who lived on my living-learning program’s floor—that's mostly how we talked. And then if I would see them in the bathroom, we would say hi. I was really lonely, but I think it caused me to mature and just be better at spending time alone. I don't really know how I would've met people. I mostly just hung out with two friends from high school.

“I’m looking forward to getting my grad photos back and having a grad party since I didn't get to in 2020. The idea of having a graduation now feels kind of weird. I don't know if it's that I don't want to get my hopes up, but it just doesn't feel real. I'm going to grad school—yay—and that may be tainting my view. People are like, ‘Oh, we're so excited to be done.’ And then I'm, like, ‘But I'm not done.’ But it's still a milestone.”

Mandy Hsu, communications and marketing
“In 2020, it felt very anticlimactic, sitting at home. In Montgomery County, we watched the TV broadcast where they played the names of the graduates on screen, and then my high school had a drive-by graduation. It was definitely a bummer—I had my prom dress and everything ready. And I was doing pit orchestra for our drama club, but the week before the show was going to start, COVID hit. It felt like a lot of work for nothing.

“Everything will feel really new this year! I’m the oldest in my family, so it will be fun for my parents to go to a big graduation for the first time. I’m co-president of the Taiwanese American Student Association and the club plans a senior send-off each year, so I’m looking forward to that. I also didn’t get to do senior pictures in high school, so my friends and I are going to take pictures around campus. We’re even planning to bring in props!”

Grayson McCord, French and government and politics
“After freshman year was fully remote, sophomore year was definitely very jarring because I was like, ‘I've never been on this campus, and now it looks so busy and everyone is bustling and going to classes.’ My favorite memories of UMD are hanging out on Wash Quad sophomore year, just being with my friends outside in a hammock.”

Maggie Staudenmaier, public policy and criminal justice
“My high school graduation was a YouTube livestream that I watched on my couch with my parents at home. And that was lovely but I am very, very disappointed and sad that I wasn't able to have a high school graduation like every other graduating class. Since I never got to experience that, I really want to milk this one for everything it has. Really experience it to the fullest, because it's the only one I'll ever have.”

Victoria Stavish, information science and journalism
“Sophomore year I just was trying to do everything because I didn't get to do anything freshman year. I joined every club and anything that was remotely interesting to me. Then toward the end of my sophomore year. I was like,’Okay, it's time to whittle this down to like the top three.’

“I’m really looking forward to graduation week, because I get to go to my friends’ graduations and it feels like I'm hopping to a bunch of different fun activities throughout the whole week. In senior year of high school I didn't get to do that, so now I'm really doing it up because I get to do it all now.”

Minnie Stephenson, journalism
“Looking back, a lot of parts of freshman year were unfortunate just because we didn't really get an orientation or anything like that, but I didn't really have anything to compare it to, so I actually really enjoyed my experience. And I got really lucky because I was friends with a lot of people on my floor in Cumberland Hall, which was basically where everyone was at all times, because you didn’t go to class in person, you just kind of hung out in your building. People in my building were really nice and kind and I'm still friends with them..

“My favorite memory was the basketball games. I was at the game last year where we won over Purdue and we weren't supposed to because they were No. 1, so it was a huge upset. We were all the way up at the top of the bleachers like so far away and when we won we stormed the court.”

George Tang, aerospace engineering (Instagram Stories submission from @George2cool36)
“I am a fifth year student but I was able to take the extra year to enjoy more campus life!”

feet of two dancers dancing

Anna Wietrecki '24 (left) kicks off her shoes to dance with Greta Fream '24.

a line of dancers crouches

From left, Faina Pensy '25, Julia Kallaur '24, Quentin Hoglund '24 and Dawn Barreto '24 get low during a group dance at the prom.

twin brothers speak to an auidience from a stage

Twin brothers Alex (left) and Chad Mckee '24 accept the honor of being named prom royalty.

large M made of people on football field

Members of the Class of 2024 created the classic M on the SECU Stadium field on May 8 after missing out on the tradition as freshmen. It was part of Grad Bash, hosted by the Alumni Association, Division of Student Affairs and Maryland Athletics. The event shifted to the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center for a digital photo booth, free food, a DJ and raffle prizes. (Photo by Chris Lyons/Maryland Athletics)

Karen Shih '09, Lucy Hubbard '24 and Lauren Brown contributed to this article.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.