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Thursday, July 30, 2020
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The Class of 2020 came into the world just ahead of or right behind the turmoil of the 9-11 attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and the related plane crash in a Pennsylvania field. Though infants their lives were forever impacted by the events of that day.

How they traveled and how they approached security wherever they were was shaped by those events in September 2001. Their entire lives there has been an ongoing war against terrorism and that in turn has shaped their views on entering or not entering the military, those of other cultures and world relations.

Government intelligence, Homeland Security and views on immigration have been forever altered and they now live within the context of those changes.

Then mid-March their senior year they found themselves impacted by a world-wide pandemic. Dubbed the “COVID-19 Class” by some writers, they are living history and once again must face life-altering events.

They added new words and phrases to their vocabulary such as “flatten the curve,” “social distancing,” “self-isolation,” “cluster,” “community spread,” “asymptomatic” and “superspreader.”

Suddenly everyone was practicing ultra-clean hand-hygiene, wearing masks and instead of hugging or shaking hands were waving, fist- or elbow-bumping.

One-by-one the rites of passage normally associated with one’s final semester of high school were deemed not safe and cancelled in order to control the spread of the coronavirus dubbed COVID-19. No prom, no spring sports, no spring activities such as speech, drama and concert band or a fine arts day. But the final blow was no graduation.

The sense of closure to one’s first 13 years of schooling has been a time-honored tradition here in the United States, going back decades. While some smaller schools went ahead with modified ceremonies in May, larger schools waited and debated how they could safely hold any type of ceremony.

As spring moved into summer and the first wave of the virus passed, school districts and administrators developed as many different plans as there are colors of the rainbow. There were indoor observances limited to a handful of viewers, in larger communities’ mega-ceremonies with limited viewers and participants spread out in arenas and for some virtual ceremonies with graduates able to cross a stage but no one else but one or two officials present while family watched at home.

At Lexington it was a carefully planned outdoor ceremony at Kirkpatrick Memorial Park this past Saturday. School board and administrators were seated up in the park gazebo with graduates’ seats socially-distanced on the grass to the south.

Family and friends were able to view without a limit in groups all over the park surrounding the gazebo. Graduates marched in single file and masked to the taped strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” No high school band playing because they hadn’t practiced since mid-March and no choral number either.

There were the usual five speakers and while I know their messages were vastly different than what they would have been in May, they still reflected hope for the future. In a surreal end to their high school years the Class of 2020 tossed their hats and finally found some closure.

The events of 2020 have and will continue to shape this particular group’s world view for decades to come. But as I listened to the speakers it brightened my day to hear their resolve and see how they adapted to disappointment after disappointment. I have no doubt that in coming years they will be among the most resilient and creative group of citizens to enter our world in quite some time.