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Graduating Seniors at Thomas Jefferson High School Reflect on Roller Coaster Year

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Seniors across North Texas have begun to attend their graduations, but one ceremony should get some extra attention. 

The Class of 2020 at Thomas Jefferson High School ended a roller coaster ride of a school year that was impacted by a tornado that destroyed their building, coronavirus sending them home to learn and taking away an in-person graduation.

"My senior year is not going the way I expected it," said Marysol Ortega of her unusual senior year. "This never happens, tornadoes? Not by us."

But Oct. 20 one did, hitting the neighborhood all around Thomas Jefferson Senior High School.

"I remember everyone going crazy posting all over social media," said Eduardo Flores. "The night of the tornado   that hit our school was the night before homecoming week."

Camille Munoz said she tried in the hours after the storm to focus her students.

"Let's try not to forget what happened, but let's keep moving forward," Munoz said. "You can be sad, but we have way too much to do."

From hosting homecoming at another campus, to saving anything from the damaged building and moving it to their new home: Thomas Edison High School, which had been shuttered.

"I didn't like Thomas Edison at all, I didn't like the new environment," senior Judith Salazar said.

The three students said the path life laid out for them kept taking wrong turns, from tornado to a pandemic.

"I have the right to be upset, I feel sad, devastated," Ortega said.

Teacher Rebecca De Luna helped focus the students not to give up.

"That's a T.J. thing, they come in so powerful and not knowing it and having to be told why are you selling yourself short," De Luna said.

And so they kept on, navigating through the twists and turns of learning at home and graduating online.

"It was still worth it even if you didn't get the big prize at the end, there's so much more to come," Munoz said.

Ortega will attend the University of North Texas. Flores will be play soccer at the collegiate level and Salazar will be the first generation in her family to head to college.

"I'm thinking of what's ahead what will be the next chapter of my life," Ortega said. "This one ended. It doesn't have to have a happy ending. It ended, but it's just the beginning of something better."

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