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‘A lot of good kids here’: Names of Rogers grads inscribed on football field to honor students denied graduation ceremony

UPDATED: Fri., April 17, 2020

Art teacher Tom Pettoello, assisted by Carol McQuaid and Principal Lori Wyborney, paints the names of every graduating senior on the football field at Rogers High School on Friday to honor the senior class whose final year of high school was cut short by the order to stay home because of COVID-19. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Art teacher Tom Pettoello, assisted by Carol McQuaid and Principal Lori Wyborney, paints the names of every graduating senior on the football field at Rogers High School on Friday to honor the senior class whose final year of high school was cut short by the order to stay home because of COVID-19. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

This is how high school memories are made in the era of social distancing: The senior class at Rogers High School just got together for a group photo and didn’t even know it.

By Friday evening, the school’s football field was covered by a giant Pirate logo and more than 300 names in foot-high block white lettering.

“I did it because I care about the kids,” said art teacher Tom Pettoello, who probably should have worn a mask – not because of COVID-19 but for the fumes of seven dozen aerosol cans.

“It’s worth it,” said Pettoello, who earlier on Friday did the same at East Valley High School, where another 300 seniors will go without proms and yearbook signings and probably commencement.

Pettoello and his aide, substitute teacher Carol McQuaid, were halfway through their work when Rogers Principal Lori Wyborney pulled up on her bicycle.

“I wasn’t going to miss this, so I rode all the way from Cheney,” Wyborney said.

When Pettoello, an assistant baseball coach at Rogers, pitched his idea for a senior tribute, Wyborney said, “Heck, yeah, we’re doing this.”

By the time Wyborney got off her bike, the concept was a reality, the names almost coming to life like some gigantic yearbook page.

There were no photos, but Wyborney didn’t need them.

She paused at the name of a senior named Cayson Brewer, who as a hot-tempered freshman seemed to look for trouble around every hallway corner.

“We weren’t sure he was going to make it,” Wyborney said.

By his junior year, Brewer was “taking on academics,” she said. As a senior, he was taking college-level English and walking away from fights, Wyborney said.

Twenty feet away were the freshly painted names of the Jimenez twins, Evelyn and Jacqueline. Earlier this year, their father was deported to Mexico, yet they overcame that heartbreak to graduate.

“Now they’re going to college,” Wyborney said.

Nearby, the name of Tracy Ha, a shy girl “who wasn’t on my radar until this year,” Wyborney said. Ha had scored a remarkable 1530 on her SAT but still lacked the confidence to go away to college.

“Her parents were skeptical, but I talked to them,” Wyborney said.

Three weeks later, Ha was accepted at Stanford.

Every name had a story. But for the setting sun, Wyborney would have shared them all.

“A lot of good kids here,” Wyborney said.

“But I’m heartbroken for these seniors,” she said of the toll taken by the coronavirus on the class of 2020.

“There were so many things about the spring, and they looked forward to it so much,” Wyborney said. “It’s not going to be the same, and that’s really hard for me.”

As she viewed the names, Wyborney looked ahead to the biggest rite of passage for the class of 2020: graduation.

No final decision has been made in Spokane, but it appears likely that the district will opt for virtual graduation rather than a postponement.

“We have a lot of people who are the first in their family to graduate, so this means a lot,” Wyborney said.

A moment later, her cup was half full. Noting that Ferris High School had raised funds to plant yard signs at the homes of every senior, Wyborney resolved to do the same.

“We’ll put them up along Wellesley and have the seniors go by,” she said. “And maybe when all of this clears up a little, maybe we could do something here, or at Albi.”

That too would make a great memory.

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