VERO BEACH — Alicia Maneiro felt a rush of excitement when she stepped on the football field with her color guard team.
The Vero Beach High School senior described the bond between the teammates as a “sisterhood” and a “big happy family.” Performing alongside the Vero Beach “Fighting Indians” Marching Band is a memory that Maneiro will never forget.
Maneiro, 17, of Vero Beach, said she also has a unique connection with her graduating senior class of 681 students.
“I will miss the band, the teachers and the senior class,” Maneiro said. “The teachers always make me feel like I can go to them and talk to them about anything. I always felt loved and nurtured.”
But, what was supposed to be the end of a four-year academic journey – traditionally marked by an annual senior field trip, prom and graduation – has turned into a realm of uncertainty for graduating seniors. The public health emergency caused by the coronavirus has led to massive businesses and school closings around the nation.
Maneiro’s story is one of many. There’s hurt and disappointment as she and other graduating seniors focus on immediate future goals – including walking across the stage and earning diplomas – while campuses are shut.
“We were all looking forward to being the ‘perfect vision class of 2020,'” Maneiro said of the Vero Beach High School senior class theme. “It’s nerve-wracking. The virus came out of nowhere. It’s all happening so fast.”
Public schools in Florida, which closed in mid-March, will remain closed until May 1, school officials said. School officials are continuing to educate students virtually using an instructional provision plan.
Most students remain optimistic, despite the cancellations of several events for high school seniors before transitioning to college. What would have been a memorable trip to Universal Studios for Vero high school seniors, originally set for April 17, was cancelled.
The prom dates for Vero Beach High School, April 25, and for Sebastian River High School, May 2, were cancelled. School District of Indian River County spokesperson Cristen Maddux said alternative prom dates for both campuses – the only two public high school in the county – have not been set.
Vero high’s graduation, originally set for May 15, was pushed back to June 12. Sebastian River high’s graduation, originally set for May 16, was postponed to June 13.
Those dates could be pushed even further back if the social distancing guidelines from Center for Disease Control and Prevention don’t change. Maddux said schools are in constant contact with high school seniors and their families to help them with filling out scholarships and applying for college.
Passion for music
Maneiro started playing the violin at age six when she was part of the Gifford Youth Orchestra. The musician said she attended Gifford Youth Achievement Center and Gifford Middle School, where she played the cello.
Maneiro continued to build her musicianship while at Vero Beach High School, captivating harmonic octaves from her bow-stringed instrument. The musician then joined the color guard team as a flag girl when she was a junior, and then moved up to the rifle line in her senior year.
“You learn different steps and routines,” Maneiro said. “It brings discipline.”
Maneiro was also set to participate in the 2020 Miss Hibiscus Pageant, which was postponed until further notice. Maneiro has previously been involved in the pageant twice, including in 2019 where she won the title of ‘Miss Photogenic.’
In early March, before the school closings, Maneiro was already making reservations to get her hair and makeup done for prom. When news of the virus caused schools to close, Maneiro and her mother, Theresa Baxter, discussed whether Maneiro should still buy a prom dress and have prom inside their home.
“Prom at home is still up in the air,” Maneiro said. “We still don’t know when this virus is going to pass. We want to be cautious.”
Maneiro said some other high school seniors have already spent money on dresses and renting vehicles for prom before the announcement to close schools. Maneiro said her friend spent more than $3,000 purchasing a dress and renting a car.
“She doesn’t know what she’s going to do,” Maneiro said.
Uncertainty of graduation
Maneiro said she hasn’t received a date for cap and gown pickup for graduation. Theresa Baxter has posted her daughter’s graduation invitations on social media.
But, with graduation being postponed and the uncertainty of when schools will reopen, the family has not yet sent out invitations in the mail. School officials noted there could be a limit on how many guests each high school senior can have, based on the social distancing guidelines.
“It’s sad for the class of 2020. We never thought it would happen this way,” Maneiro said. “It would be really (sad) if we couldn’t walk across the stage and get our diploma.”
Maneiro said she hasn’t talked with family members yet about making arrangements to attend her graduation.
Inspired to be on the ‘frontline’
As healthcare officials around the world are treating thousands of people who became sick from coronavirus, Maneiro said she is inspired to follow in their footsteps.
Maneiro will major in the emergency medical field while attending Indian River State College. Maneiro eventually wants to become an emergency medical technician.
Maneiro said she wants to attend IRSC so she can stay close to her family. Maneiro has already received an academic scholarship from Gifford Youth Achievement Center that will cover her tuition for two semesters.
“I’ve always wanted to help those in need who can’t help themselves,” Maneiro said. “I know how to handle pressure.”
Photos provided by Theresa Baxter