'Don't take anything for granted,' | Onalaska student uses class photos for closure after pandemic, tornado derail 2020 senior year

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Madison Key’s family lake house in Onalaska was leveled by a tornado on April 22 that reached EF-2 wind speeds.

ONALASKA, Texas — High school seniors graduating in 2020 are not getting the pomp, circumstance, and celebration they expected.

In the Polk County town of Onalaska, Texas, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only disaster upending lives.

On April 22, a tornado ripped through the small town, killing three people, and injuring 33 others. Homes were destroyed. Homes like the Key’s.

Onalaska Junior-Senior High School senior Madison Key and her family lost their lake house: it was razed as that tornado reached EF-2 windspeeds. Her family’s home in the same subdivision also suffered damage.

While these unforeseeable catastrophes certainly shaped her senior class, Madison decided it would not define her.

The future cosmetology student went “all natural:” no makeup, no hairdo, taking her senior photos standing on top of the rubble of her lake house.

Photographer Hannah Cram, who works at the town elementary school, started taking photos as a hobby five years ago, and now works on them full-time. She had never taken a photo like this.

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“You’re catching some people’s favorite moments: weddings, births, graduations,” said Cram. “She basically needed something to close that chapter in her life of 2020 because it’s been completely crazy.”

The idea to stand on the rubble was Madison’s.

She didn’t get to say “goodbye” to some of her friends in person. Students never returned to school after spring break due to the pandemic. Missing them makes rebuilding just a little harder.

“One minute you have your house, your car, and then one second it’s just gone. Don’t take anything for granted,” said Key. “It showed just a little bit of what I’ve been going through.”

Her father, the assistant chief of the Onalaska fire department, is currently undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer about a year ago.

When the tornado hit, people like his fellow firefighters, came to help.

“We’re used to helping others,” said Key’s mother, Jaclyn. “This time was different.”

She plans to go to cosmetology school in Lufkin, and is still deciding which school she’ll attend.