I know I join our administrators, teachers, support staff, and many others who have committed their lives to the cause of public education in saying that I could never have imagined a year like this one, nor could I have ever imagined the incredible sacrifices that our students would be asked to make.
What makes this moment in our history so different and so unique is that so often, and rightly so, the burden of sacrifice falls on adults. And as adults, we understand and fully accept our responsibility to shoulder those burdens in order to protect our children from difficult situations, unfair circumstances, or sometimes even just from sadness and loss.
Many adults, myself included, were not entirely prepared to face the many challenges that surfaced when schools were forced to abruptly close their doors on March 13, 2020. In addition, we all quickly learned that we couldn’t protect all of our students from the disappointments they would face as a result.
We tried. I saw our staff step up to create interactive online drama classes, virtual end-of-the-year class parties, and scholarship ceremonies. I watched teachers organize drive-through yearbook distribution events for books that would never be signed. Additionally, I saw teachers and administrators come together to create a personalized celebration for each one of our graduating seniors while keeping our students, their families, and ultimately our community safe.
And while we smiled, and cheered and gave air hugs through all of those amazing moments, it isn’t what we planned. What we truly wanted was to give back what was lost. We wanted to give our fifth graders their moment to walk proudly through the halls of their elementary school one last time. We wanted our kindergarteners to experience their first spring field trips and their first last day of school. We wanted our athletes to hear the cheers of their families and friends in the stands. And more than anything, we wanted our graduates to be together one last time to celebrate their accomplishments together.
To the Class of 2020, we had hoped that by now the world would look different than it did on your original graduation date. We held out hope because we wanted to protect you from another disappointment or missed experience. While it still was not ultimately what we wanted (an arena filled with all your adoring family and friends), this week we saw the joy and excitement of those special people in your life as they came together from across the country and the world, to find a way to celebrate you, one last time, with our virtual graduation ceremonies.
This event marked the official culmination of a year that will truly never be forgotten. And even though we are the educators here, we learned much more from you this year. While we were trying so hard to shoulder those burdens and lessen the losses, you taught us you didn’t need us to do that for you anymore. As educators, we know that is our ultimate goal – to prepare you to face whatever life throws your way. You might not have taken final SOL tests or all of your end-of-course exams, but you passed an even more important test. You showed us that you were prepared to navigate adversity with grace, to demonstrate enormous empathy in the face of uncertainty, and to be more resilient than we ever imagined.
Congratulations, Class of 2020! We are proud of you and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish!
Did you miss our live-streamed Virtual Graduation series? Click here to view the ceremonies, access ceremony materials, and more.