Tom and Anna Sluka pose on main street in downtown in Milligan in their prom finery.

Celebrating all of those “last time” moments when you are a high school senior is bittersweet, and this year’s senior class has not had the opportunity to make those memories of prom and graduation. A few Exeter-Milligan seniors and their families took the time to create their own memories.

Anna Sluka and her mom, Karen, shopped early this year for a prom dress because “we knew April would be busy,” Karen said.

The coronavirus hit and things came to a complete stop. As the once busy month of April began, Karen noticed that Anna started to take note of the things she was missing like the trip to Galveston, Texas, the seniors had planned.

“She would say, ‘I am supposed to be sitting on the beach right now getting my tan on,’ which was the weekend we got all of the snow,” she said.

On the spur of the moment, according to Karen and husband Tom, they decided to “grill some steaks, decorate the room, Anna got her prom dress on and Tom got dressed up.”

With everyone dressed up, they decided to visit Tom’s mom and then thought they would got to Milligan and cruise around.

Cruising in front of the auditorium where prom is usually held, Tom realized they could have a dance down main street as part of their celebration.

Anna, who is the youngest of the five Sluka children, was thrilled.

“For me it was a special moment to have my dad as my prom date. It’s something my siblings never had. It’s a moment I will cherish forever,” she said.

The Slukas have been soaking up this last year of school.

“We have been taking in each event knowing it was our last one. As far as prom goes I don’t want anyone to date my daughter,” Tom said. 

Anna reassured him that all out of all of her prom and homecoming dates he was the best one.

Tom added, “Anna has been such a good sport about all of the things she has missed. I am honored she would ask me to go to the prom. We are so proud of her and how she has handled this situation.”

The Slukas were also adamant in their praise of how Exeter-Milligan has gone above and beyond to honor the seniors.

“There is no place like Exeter-Milligan,” Anna said. “It’s really special. I have friends from other schools that aren’t getting what we are getting. It means a lot to me and our whole class. They are really making the best out of this crappy situation.”

“Small towns and small schools are still trying to do some of these special things. They are doing the best they possibly can,” Tom added.

During the first cruise night in Exeter, senior Kayla Geiger and her boyfriend Sam Otte, a Nebraska Lutheran senior, dressed up, Sam brought Kayla flowers and candy and they made their own special event.

Prom dresses have also made appearances at other cruise nights as the girls want to show their special outfits.

Another set of senior parents, Brian and Angie Murphy, also wanted to do something special to honor their daughter Caitlin’s prom night.

“We had pictures, a nice prom dinner, and then a mini-dance complete with a YouTube laser show and lots of laughs,” Angie said.

The Murphys went a step further and added a post prom to their fancy evening. They included Wii bowling and a family game of pitch. No reports on who won.

Caitlin enjoyed the evening and “thought the ‘prom night’ was a fun way to celebrate during an unconventional time. It was special to be able to wear my dress and document the occasion even though we were unable to have prom.”

As teachers in the district the Murphys have experienced firsthand both sides of the effect of the pandemic on seniors, from a parents and a teachers perspective. Angie was very positive about the way the district is honoring the seniors.

“I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the banners in downtown Exeter and the yard signs at the Milligan football field. Watching the video downtown was really fun too,” she said.

As far as the loss of special events the students are missing Angie added, “I think it’s hard; the situation has left a big hole for the students, and even the parents. There are so many lasts that won’t happen for this group of kids. That being said, they had a lot of experiences in their high school careers that some of the younger students won’t get to have. As a teacher, I think it’s hard for everyone, and I think when we look back we will find things we could do better.”

Caitlin summed up her feelings on the quarantine situation.

“The end of my senior year has definitely been unexpected, but I believe Exeter-Milligan is trying to make the best of the situation for all students,” she said. “I greatly appreciate the senior video being projected in both towns, the banners on Main Street in Exeter, and the yard signs at Milligan’s football field. The school has responded thoughtfully, and although the situation is far from ideal, Exeter-Milligan is still providing opportunities and recognition for the class of 2020.”

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