Class of 2020 moves on without the usual milestones

By Emily Cureton (OPB)
Sept. 22, 2020 1 p.m. Updated: Sept. 23, 2020 12:03 a.m.

A Madras High School graduate on weathering disappointment with grace.

A group of current and former Madras High School students plays basketball at Sahalee Park in Madras, Ore., on Sept. 1, 2020.

A group of current and former Madras High School students plays basketball at Sahalee Park in Madras, Ore., on Sept. 1, 2020.

Emily Cureton

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The high school class of 2020 didn’t get the usual milestones. Graduations were canceled. Student athletes couldn’t play out their final seasons. Now, some of these young people start college amid continued uncertainty while battling the dread of online learning.

Former high school basketball star Dapri Miller doesn’t tend to dwell on the bad stuff, though.

“Just like my mom, grandma and grandpa always told me: ‘Not everything’s about you, just keep going, keep moving,’” said the 18-year-old Madras High School graduate.

Dapri Miller says he recovered from a broken leg during his sophomore year to stay on his high school basketball team.

Dapri Miller says he recovered from a broken leg during his sophomore year to stay on his high school basketball team.

Emily Cureton

Miller, who is Warm Springs, Wasco, Ute and Yakama, played his last high school game a couple of weeks before Oregon shut down. He grew up mostly on the Warm Springs Reservation in Central Oregon, where by his telling, basketball is no trifling game.

“You gotta score, score, score. We like to call that ‘rez ball,’” he said.

At 5-foot-7, he was on the varsity team three years of high school, recovering from serious injuries and other setbacks along the way. During his junior year, he went to China to play. As a senior, the Oregon Basketball Coaches Association named Miller to its all-star team as one of the best high school players east of the Cascades.

Miller remembered telling himself: “'I’m going to show them who I really am, what I can do and who I can be.’” But, the all stars never played together, and like so many recent high school graduates, Miller will move on to more adult demands without the opportunities he worked toward for years in middle and high school.

“I still think about what could have been, if COVID wasn’t here,” he said, not lingering on the thought. “I’ve got to see past that. Because now I’m on to bigger things, and I’m going to college.”

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Miller plans to start classes at Lane Community College this month. He’ll leave his mom’s house on the rural reservation for a city apartment shared with friends. He said he’s worried online learning will only set him up for failure.

“I’m this type of person where I have to learn hands-on,” Miller said. “I have to be inside the classroom. I can’t learn electronically.”

Young men, many of whom grew up together, play basketball in Madras, Ore., on Sept. 1, 2020. For some, basketball is a vital escape from work-life stress.

Young men, many of whom grew up together, play basketball in Madras, Ore., on Sept. 1, 2020. For some, basketball is a vital escape from work-life stress.

Emily Cureton

LCC executive vice president and provost Paul Jarrell confirmed nearly all LCC’s classes will be online this term, and said his “greatest fear” is that students like Miller will prejudge how they can and can’t learn.

“Students need to be aware that it’s perfectly OK, in fact, it’s expected and encouraged, that you ask for help,” Jarrell said.

The first step, he added, is contacting a school counselor or student advisor for information about tutoring, support groups and other free programs. Jarrell argued it’s critical to keep recent high school graduates engaged because the longer people break from formal education, the less likely they are to ever return.

“If we just sat back and said, ‘Well, you know, we don’t really need the students. We don’t have the resources,’ that’s a generation lost of humanity. I know that sounds huge, but it is huge,” Jarrell said.

Because of the pandemic, LCC canceled almost all sports this semester, including basketball. Miller is taking that in stride, too.

“Playing basketball isn’t just about being on the court. It teaches you a lot about respect, communication, and friendships. Mainly, it makes you better at friendships,” he said.

And if you ask Miller’s former teammates, he’s already a pro in that department.

Dapri Miller shoots a 3-pointer in Madras, Ore., on Sept. 1, 2020.

Dapri Miller shoots a 3-pointer in Madras, Ore., on Sept. 1, 2020.

Emily Cureton

“He’s a little orb of light, full of energy … It’s going to be a big, big piece missing,” said 18-year-old Tyriek Rodriguez, who graduated from Madras High with Miller last spring.

Miller said after months of quarantine, his group of friends started meeting up again to play basketball. He said he calculated the health risks against the isolation, anger and disappointment that’s become normal.

“This is our only get away from all the COVID stuff, from all the arguing, from everything.”

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