Dallas Thomas Jefferson Seniors Celebrate Despite Double Wallop

First, the October 2019 tornado destroyed the school, and then the coronavirus pandemic ended their year early.

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The 300-plus members of the Class of 2020 at Dallas’ Thomas Jefferson High School will certainly have some stories to tell.

In October 2019, an EF-3 tornado tore through North Dallas, part of a series of tornadoes that touched down causing approximately $1.5 billion in damage, making it the costliest tornado event in Texas history.

Three schools from the Dallas Independent School District were badly damaged in the tornado, including Thomas Jefferson.

The entire student body was relocated across the city to the former Thomas Edison Middle School along Singleton Boulevard for the remainder of the school year.

But then, the coronavirus pandemic arrived in March and effectively ended the rest of the school year.

That double wallop canceled plans for the senior class for the remainder of the academic year – no more spring sports, no more prom, no more classes with friends, and no more traditional graduation ceremony.

“At first I questioned everything. I was like, ‘Why us?’” said senior Marysol Ortega, who plans to attend the University of North Texas in the fall. “I took it personally. I was like, ‘Wait, why me? Why this year? It could have happened any other time, but it happened now. Why?’ But you reflect on it, [and] one of the things that I learned is I need to stop focusing on wasting my energy on things that you have no control over.”

Ortega and the rest of the senior class had one last chance to gather together as a group on Tuesday night.

Members of the faculty and staff at Thomas Jefferson, along with the founders of the Dallas-based company Proud of My Grad, spent hours organizing hundreds of personalized yard signs for each of the seniors in preparation of a parade of sorts for the students outside of their storm-damaged school, during which time they were given their sign, along with their cap and gown and allowed to pose for pictures in the parking lot.

“Well, I hope they never have to endure anything like this again,” said Jeff Harrington, whose Proud of My Grad company donated more than $7,000 in signs for the cause. “I think, obviously, the lesson is when life knocks you down you can get up, you can put one step in front of the other, and you will be amazed at two or three months later you may be throwing your cap in the air. You may be excited and happy about life.”

“Overall it sucks that we are not able to have a senior year like every other class has before or will have. But I think that this unique situation, whether it is a challenge, it will help us,” said Ortega.

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