By Pauline Kerr
Graduation this year is different for many young Canadians celebrating an education milestone, whether it is completing kindergarten, Grade 8, high school, college or university.
The pandemic still rages, despite high rates of vaccination. Many areas, including Ontario, remain under public health constraints that prohibit traditional cap-and-gown ceremonies.
Some schools have planned a ceremony of sorts online, and there will gatherings of friends, via computer.
Many schools are postponing in-person ceremonies until fall, in the hope COVID-19 restrictions will have been lifted by then so students are able to gather together to celebrate their accomplishments. Many of this year’s high school grads will have departed for university, college or workplaces far away, by then. As for last year’s grads, they will be entering their second year of post-secondary education or training. Life goes on despite COVID.
Unfortunately, milestone celebrations are like fresh fruit – they come with a “best before” date. After a while, no matter how nice they still look, the taste and texture are gone.
Whether they attend ceremonies or not, every member of the class of 2021 will have interesting tales to tell in future years, and a special kind of resilience developed by slogging through the great COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021, sometimes attending class in person, sometimes via computer, shifting from one to the other at a moment’s notice. While standard school clothing degenerated from brand-name styles to pyjamas and hoodies, they worked incredibly hard for those diplomas and degrees.
With team sports mostly banned, the family dog became their jogging buddy, the local hiking trails their recreation centre. Playing hopscotch with their little sister became the most exciting activity of the day (even if she did cheat).
The classroom was also their parents’ office – the kitchen table. They helped Mom and Dad learn to Zoom, and in doing so, figured out their parents were kind of important people. Their parents got a mind-boggling introduction to high school subject matter. Both will miss the closeness that developed over mid-morning coffee breaks at that table/office/classroom.
College and university students left their newfound freedom and returned home to complete their courses as best they could. Some put career plans on hold, and some had their hopes of earning a major sports scholarship dashed.
Many students at every level discovered a determination they never knew they had, that will benefit them throughout their lives. COVID-19 was not easy on them. Those of us long past our own school days should try to imagine how we would have coped had we been told we could not visit with anyone outside our immediate families for over a year – basically, have our education and entire social lives on hold until the pandemic burned itself out.
We would have been overwhelmed. Members of the class of 2021 probably were, too, but to their credit, they coped magnificently.
A certain “I can get through anything” attitude has developed in our COVID grads. It goes beyond confidence; there is an element of toughness, a bit of a swagger, and it looks good on them.
The class of 2021 includes the kids who brightened our day with their humour and quick wits at the drive-through window, the young entrepreneurs who started online businesses, the bloggers, the dog-walkers and the ones who made snow angels outside the local nursing home.
It includes the kids who never thought they could complete an entire school year mostly via computer, but did it anyway.
It also includes the kids who survived dark days when the combination of fear and boredom got the better of them, when frustration over attending class via computer built and the grim reality of living through a pandemic hit full-force. Some of them needed a bit of extra help with that, and they had the courage to go after it.
Words cannot take the place of the graduation ceremonies our young people missed out on, but we must say them anyway – bravo, congratulations, thumbs-up, virtual elbow bump, three cheers and way to go, class of 2021! You did it!