For most students, June is traditionally a month best known for the start of summer vacation. For high school seniors, it is the month of graduation. This June will be a little different.
Since the onset of the coronavirus, schools in Pennsylvania have been physically closed and all instruction has been online. This has not only disrupted the daily educational routine and student socialization, but the prospects of a traditional graduation ceremony, as well. While disappointing, the loss of a traditional graduation ceremony should not be a cause for anxiety or sadness.
On the positive side, this is the first and possibly the only graduating class that has a major portion of society cheering them on, showering them with virtual parties, drive-by celebrations, and multiple gifts. Many communities have even implemented “adopt a senior” programs designed to provide emotional support and even monetary gifts to seniors. So, for now, the loss of a traditional pomp-and-circumstance-themed ceremony has been replaced by a new way of celebrating this rite of passage.
Graduation ceremonies are meant more for parents and grandparents than the participating seniors. It is always a special time to see a child rewarded for an accomplishment. Graduating from high school is one of the greatest achievements for a young adult, and the pride felt by family members cannot be replicated. However, the achievement of fulfilling a level of education to get to that point is the great accomplishment. The graduation ceremony simply highlights that fact.
Take pride in the fact that a diploma has been awarded, as that will be the memory that remains long after the cap and gown are put away. For seniors, the memory of friends and teachers who have made the past 12 years special will never fade. Yes, a few very important months of senior year have been lost, but a lifelong album of memories has already been created. The shared experience of members of the Class of 2020 will be part of the historical narrative across America for generations to come.
It has been nearly 40 years since I graduated from Johnstown High School. In all that time, I do not believe I have thought about my graduation ceremony even once. I have attended my two most recent class reunions and what stands out from that experience is the shared memories of our three years at JHS together. During our junior year, it was announced that our high school building was going to be closed at the end of the school year. For our senior year, we would be moved to an old junior high school building. As teenagers, we made the best of it, but to this day, our class remembers being cheated out of a senior year in the school we loved.
While the authorities may have taken away our school, they did not break our bonds. We remain Trojans forever.
So, to all the graduating Little Lions, Red Raiders, Mounties, Rams, Eagles, Wolves, and seniors everywhere, I offer you this parting wisdom:
High school was the foundation on which you will build your lives. This recent adversity will make you stronger. Years from now, you will look back and remember not the three months of quarantine, but the four years of great experiences that you had. Your classmates will become dear to you. No matter where you end up in life, you will realize that they and your hometown will always be a part of you.
Cherish these times, no matter how strange they may feel. Share photos in your cap and gown and record your musings. Over the years, youth will fade away, but the memories of youth will grow stronger. In the end, your life will not be defined by ceremonies or awards, but rather by accomplishments.
Bernard A. Oravec