The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the lives of people around the world, and it will not be remembered fondly. With the exception of those who have lost loved ones or their careers to the disease, few of us will remember this disruption with more sorrow than the seniors in high schools and colleges throughout the land.
For the purposes of today’s discussion, let’s consider what usually happens for such graduates in April and May. It’s the completion of a long journey. The memories of COVID-19 and the disappointments that resulted will linger for decades. People can’t just go back and manufacture a makeover of these lost moments in time.
That’s not to say first-graders like my grandson won’t remember some of it either. They will probably vaguely recall the year no one went back to classrooms after spring break. Later on in life, they’ll remember the time when they were introduced to video conferencing programs like Zoom and Google Meet, or others, and chuckle about how primitive those platforms were back in the old days.
I hope the high school and college graduates who might be reading this will consider doing this: Write down your feelings while they are still fresh in your mind, then put them in a safe place. When you’re 95 and another pandemic sweeps the world, the news media will find you and you’ll become famous. Unless by then you’re already famous for something else, so you’ll become even more famous.
School officials, parents, and the public at-large have been going to extraordinary lengths to make this particular senior season memorable for graduates in positive ways, as unique and bizarre as it has proven to be. There have been parades, individualized recognition with appropriate physical distancing, photographed keepsakes, and salutes in the media. Television stations in major metropolitan areas have been showing photos of high school graduates during commercial breaks. This requires considerable effort.
Across the country, celebrities are speaking, and political leaders are performing, remotely. The creative ways people are congratulating graduates seem endless.
It’s a good thing they’re doing, but every special event is a reminder that so many rites of passage associated with high school graduations in particular were canceled or rewritten.
As society “reopens” in phases, schools have more options in how to handle the annual spring ceremony. In Brownwood, the previously scheduled July event has been moved to June 5 at Gordon Wood Stadium. It became apparent that by mid-summer, it is likely that the Class of 2020 will have scattered to assume military commitments, jobs in other cities, and perhaps college studies. I say “perhaps,” because some colleges and universities have already decided that classes will be held online only, even in the fall.
Brownwood High School will present a customized, individualized online streaming celebration this evening. Pulling that together must have been a massive undertaking. It, plus other ceremonies planned by school systems everywhere, will be memorable for unusual — possibly historic — reasons.
Senior year activities are just part of what grads have lost. A few days ago, a classmate and I were reminiscing on social media about our own high school graduation 52 years ago this month. He told me he remembered it well. I don’t, for some reason. I remember the rehearsal that morning and the party afterward, but the ceremony itself is a blur. A happy blur, even so.
The summer that followed was exciting in many ways. My roommate-to-be and I visited our college, Howard Payne. Our family took a vacation to scenic spots in California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. My parents were moving back to the Carolinas, and they weren’t sure when they’d be back west. There were carefree summer days and evenings with friends. We were on top of the world.
It’s a bittersweet sendoff into adulthood, but this year’s graduates are adapting and overcoming. They won’t have the traditional memories that others have, but they will be better prepared to navigate challenges life throws at us all.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.