Sydney Carreon slipped on a borrowed blush gown and hoop earrings, dabbing on a little extra makeup as she got ready alongside her three best friends.


The Rouse High School graduating seniors sang karaoke, played games, danced and created TikTok videos well into the night. Their catered Italian dinner and homemade photo booth finished off the touches to their recent makeshift prom.


"We had been planning for our senior prom all year. There was just no way we were going to let it slip out of our hands," said Carreon, 18.


The coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools abruptly in mid-March, canceling proms, graduations and college acceptance celebrations for thousands of graduating Texas seniors. But Carreon and other Austin-area students decided COVID-19 wouldn’t stop them from creating their own milestones.


Earlier this month, on what would have been National Decision Day, when high school seniors sign letters of intent to enroll in their desired universities, at least 40 Austin High School seniors gathered outside their campus in cars decorated with their college choices. It turned into a impromptu car parade in a nearby neighborhood, as their vehicles rolled by one after the other, touting their college choices: the University of Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Colorado State, the U.S. Naval Academy.


In orange and blue letters, with hot pink stars sprinkled about, Maddy McCutchin spelled out "War Eagle," for her choice to attend Auburn University.


"Even though it’s a minor celebration we have at school, since it was taken away, we wanted to make a big deal out of it," McCutchin said. "I was so happy to see where all these people were going, but I was sad I don’t know if I’m going to see any of them again. ... At the end of it, it was a good closure."


The Austin school district has postponed high school graduations until August, but some students already will have moved. So at the end of the month, a handful of seniors from the Liberal Arts and Science Academy and McCallum high schools instead will throw a socially distanced commencement.


They will don their caps and gowns and sashay down the block in their Hyde Park neighborhood in Central Austin. Parents and neighbors will line up on both sides of the street, holding signs, ringing bells and cheering. Most of the students participating went to elementary school together before moving on to different middle and high schools.


"I love the idea we’re all from different high schools," said Catie Mendivil, who is graduating from McCallum. "It’s been the same group of kids in the same neighborhood. A lot of it is for the parents, and for people to make seniors feel like they’re being celebrated. It’s very sweet. I’m really glad to get to have that experience."


There has been no shortage of such celebrations in Central Texas and across the country. Teachers and administrators also have organized at-home virtual proms for students and graduation car parades.


The Griffin School staff created a virtual prom for students, coming together in a main Zoom room to honor seniors through a sing-a-long, a senior video and opening of surprise gift bags that were delivered to seniors’ homes earlier in the day.


At LBJ High and LASA’s shared virtual prom, staff members collected recorded messages to students from former UT and NFL football players, radio hosts, music artist Saul Paul, actor Andy Buckley and others. Teachers and staff included students on the planning of the celebration, which included multiple virtual rooms that played different music, and they marketed the virtual prom through the social media app TikTok.


Neighborhood associations, PTAs and booster clubs have sponsored yard signs for high school seniors. Others coordinated "Adopt a Senior" efforts, where students were showered with gifts. Community members in Smithville raised money to create 120 banners that were hung on Main Street to honor the high school’s graduates. And administrators surprised Del Valle High School’s Top 10 students at home, presenting each with a yard sign, graduation cords and stoles.


Teacher Rhonda Steczkowski, whose daughter, MacKenzi is graduating from Vista Ridge High School, planned a surprise prom at home, where the family gathered for karaoke and dancing.


"I knew they were going to miss out on so much," Steczkowski said of the seniors. "She wasn’t going to have so much of her senior year, she was missing out on it. So I thought, how I can help take some of that loss away?"


MacKenzi Steczkowski said after the closures, she "was upset missing all the things normal seniors get to do."


But the morning of her family’s makeshift prom, she came downstairs to see the room in neon and glow-in-the-dark decorations. The family captured more than pictures.


"I loved it," she said. "Just being able to experience that was awesome."