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In our opinion: We salute the Class of 2020 — and their education of a lifetime

SHARE In our opinion: We salute the Class of 2020 — and their education of a lifetime
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Cesar Cardoso, a teacher and soccer coach, right, and other teachers congratulate graduates during a drive-thru graduation ceremony at Provo High School on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

As the high school graduating class of 2020 starts its unconventional ceremonies this week, we think this Skyline senior expresses best the feelings of the moment:

“We should acknowledge how frustrating this is, because it really is frustrating. … (But) I encourage you to remember the things we got to experience, rather than the anticipated memories we didn’t.”

Thousands of Utah’s soon-to-be high school graduates — unfortunate victims of a pandemic’s upheaval — won’t march to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” and won’t receive their diplomas in front of crowded auditoriums. But in whatever form their graduation celebrations may take, we salute them — and the education of a lifetime they’ve unwittingly received. 

Much like the countless students who went before them, this class persevered through some 13 years of grade-school education. But unlike their forerunners, they’ve received life lessons in resilience, creativity, camaraderie and prioritization, the likes of which few other classes have known.

At a point when college applications were already submitted and GPAs were all but cemented, these students found a way to stay engaged in a sudden shift to online learning. They have made midyear adjustments like no other cohort. Thanks in large part to accommodating teachers — who were learning alongside their students — they finished.

Many students sacrificed their ultimate sports season or their final spring musical. They lost the chance to spend important time with friends and associates — relationships which, in many cases, may dissolve after high school. 

Most have balanced everything from work responsibilities and financial struggles to limited internet access and mental health challenges while trying to finish the final months of their high school tenure. Coupled with the economic, social and health-related dangers of the pandemic, these seniors have been awarded firsthand experience in crisis management.

It’s comforting to see others acknowledge their plight. Teachers paraded the streets of their students. Celebrities organized virtual events in their honor. The Deseret News’ James Edward awarded all-state athletic honors to the largest groups in the publication’s history — 397 softball players and 630 baseball — as a gesture to the thousand-plus seniors whose final game came a year before they knew it.

That same sentiment has inspired administrators across the state to get creative in their graduation celebrations. Live-streamed commencement exercises, drive-thru or staggered walk-up diploma ceremonies and local parades have become the norm. Some have scheduled fireworks or put their graduates’ images on billboards. 

However heartfelt, none of that can truly replace the thrill of watching a clock tick down the final moments of adolescence or the sensation of exiting the school doors for a final time.

Still, to lament what could have been, as our Skyline student warns, would be to miss the rare lessons afforded these graduates.

We hope they come to understand that much learning can take place outside a classroom, that resilience can overcome fear and that the ability to adjust — to be flexible — is as valuable a life lesson as any they’ll learn from a textbook.

At the summit of their adolescent experience, the Class of 2020 will forever distinguish itself by allowing a global crisis to be one of its most transformative learning experiences. 

Congratulations, graduates.