Over the course of the past two school years, the members of the graduating classes of 2021 have learned lessons never intended to be included in any end-of-year testing or classroom curriculum.
Lessons about perseverance. Personal responsibility. Resourcefulness. Adaptability. Social interaction. Loss. Fear. Human nature.
Lessons straight from the planning book of an international pandemic taught on campuses across the world. Theirs has been an AP class in academic and personal survival.
The annual graduation season takes on a special meaning this year, as those students earning degrees do so after a good deal of remote learning, mask wearing and limited, sometimes non-existent, personal interaction with other students and teachers.
Those being handed diplomas on the graduation stage will have earned them in a learning environment unlike any other.
In Hall County, some 2,500 high school students will hear their names called during graduation ceremonies in the days to come. Hall County public schools hold graduation this Friday; Gainesville High on May 21.
It is a testament to the lessons we all have learned over the past year that 2021 graduation ceremonies can be attended in person by those who choose to do so. That wasn’t the case this time last year.
Between their junior and senior years, the class of 2021 made a total shift from traditional classrooms to remote learning and then back to classrooms, in some cases more than once. Their schedules and routines were interrupted time and again; lives turned upside down at school and at home.
And yet they persevered — and excelled. In today’s edition of The Times, our annual graduation section highlights a student from each local high school. They have stories of excelling in academics, sports, music and more, usually balancing several pursuits at once and still coming out on top, even amid a global pandemic. Their stories are amazing. If the old cliché has merit and these youngsters truly “are our future,” then we will be in good hands moving forward.
We can only hope that theirs is the last class to undergo such upheaval, and that by the time schools open again in the fall, we have reached a point of “normalcy” that allows masks to be left behind in a drawer and face-to-face interactions to once again take place in the hallways.
While it is still too early to make those decisions for next year, we can optimistically believe that the ongoing fight against COVID-19 will allow for a much more routine classroom experience for the 2021-22 school year.
Looking back to the past year, it is truly remarkable to consider the job done not only by the graduating students but by their families in support and the educational community as a whole. The diplomas that will be dispensed in the days to come have been well earned.
In addition to area high schools, it is also graduation time for colleges across the country, where graduating seniors also saw dramatic changes in their traditional college campus experiences as a result of the year-long fight against COVID.
This year’s graduates from the nation’s colleges and universities find themselves entering a job market that has also been much changed by the pandemic. The forced realities of remote working have changed the employment environment for many as businesses re-evaluate long-held assumptions about how they should operate.
Even as some companies look for different ways to operate in a post-COVID economy, many individuals are re-evaluating their own roles in the traditional workplace. Graduates looking for jobs should have plenty to choose from, as the competition to hire employees escalates with improvements on the health front.
For many of those graduating from college, the debate over student loans and the possibility of federal “forgiveness” of much of the individual debt associated with those loans is certainly a topic of great interest, as many will walk off the stage with both a diploma and thousands of dollars worth of loan debt.
Whether you are donning the cap and gown to say goodbye to your high school, or a member of a graduating college class, we salute you for completing the journey in difficult times. Throw those caps high; you’ve earned the right.