I watched my youngest child graduate high school yesterday as part of the Class of 2022. All the speakers during the ceremony praised the assembled teens for the challenges they faced, and ultimately overcame, in their high school careers and lives. COVID started just over two years ago for them, when one Friday the students (then sophomores) were sent home early while the school board “figured out a plan” in the face of growing concern of the spread of this novel coronavirus… and then they never went back.
Well, it felt like “never” from the parental point of view!
That school year finished out at home, with virtual learning. The next school year followed a hybrid model, with alternating days of masked and socially distanced in-person learning and virtual instruction. Finally, their senior year, they were once again allowed to be at school full time, with their friends and teachers. They were all masked initially, but restrictions dropped as the months progressed and COVID cases in Frederick County plummeted.
Yes, the teens marching across the stage before us had faced more than their share of adversity.
But as I (mostly) quietly sniffled in the audience, my thoughts kept turning back to the Class of 2020. When my older child watched her photo on a TV screen as we streamed her virtual graduation in our living room during the height of the lockdown.
“It’s okay I didn’t get to walk across the stage,” she said bravely from the couch during the ceremony. “They wouldn’t have let me wear my Doc Martens anyway.”
It’s not just walking across the stage, however. Graduation day is a right of passage in the transition to adulthood that a whole year of teenagers missed. And graduation day is just the culmination of the senior experience. Senior prom. Senior skip day. The infamous senior prank. All the joint experiences that define a senior class. The Class of 2020 dreamt of these things while isolated in the “safety” of their separate homes.
“Oh, it’s okay,” she shrugged when I asked her about it recently. “I didn’t have that many friends in my grade anyway.”
Is it, though? In our modern society already so bereft of meaningful rites of passage, is it okay that this entire cohort of students missed the most important day of their high school careers? The lack of shared social experience with their peers? Who’s to say what the long-term effect will be years from now for the Class of 2020, the Class of the Lockdowns? And by the time we find out… will it be too late to do anything to help?
If you encounter a 2022 high school graduate, by all means congratulate them. But if you get a chance, please let a member of the Class of 2020 know that you are thinking of them, and they are not alone.