Meredith C. Carroll: A different kind of Class of 2020 commencement
It may have been easier to accept my high school graduation moving indoors had it rained all day. Instead, the sky passed the morning and afternoon leading up to the ceremony only sneezing and spitting intermittently, essentially rubbing snot into the wound. No one could remember a time when the Mamaroneck High School senior class didn’t walk across the stage erected in the middle of the football field in late June to a tidal wave of classmates, educators, family, friends and community members spilling out of the metal folding chairs into the bleachers and onto the sidewalks. While the school auditorium managed to adequately accommodate a smaller celebration, the jubilation in the room was less a bunch of balloons than a lone deflated one.
Imagine how the Class of 2020 must feel.
In lieu of copying, pasting and partaking in the beloved traditions chartered by the seniors before them, this year’s graduates will instead have to look back — way back — for reference on how to rise from the ashes of a global catastrophe and bushwhack a new pathway for not just themselves but those who will follow soon after.
Beyond a mere bad job market or even a recession, another graduating class likewise was once forced to enter a world transformed virtually overnight into something eminently unrecognizable and wholly less desirable. The Greatest Generation, otherwise known as the Class of 2020’s great-grandparents, were thrust involuntarily into suffering and sacrifice, growing up in the Great Depression only to be drafted afterward into World War II. The casualties sustained were inconceivable, but fortunately so too were the achievements of those who managed not to just persevere, but also thrive.
Among the qualities that distinguished and elevated the Greatest Generation were a sense of personal responsibility and appreciation. Instead of assigning blame for the s— sandwiches they were served, they ate them honorably and without comment, all while going back to the basics: hard work, frugality and humility. Because of what they’d endured, the value they placed on the lives they got to lead was incalculable.
The Greatest Generation boasted no Instagram influencers, YouTube or TikTok stars. The work they performed wasn’t a quick fix but instead served to uplift family, neighbors and the country over the long haul. They planted roots close to home and invested in their communities, filling critical voids in service, teaching and the blue-collar jobs on which the country relies heavily. They largely eschewed personal gain for civic values.
The Class of 2020 is missing out on the traditions that were once considered entitlements, although the ones they establish now will have the opportunity to benefit more than just the Class of 2021. It may not rain on Graduation Day 2020, but it has nonetheless dumped on the senior spring semester. Whether students are off to college or graduating from it, these challenges are unique to their generation yet still not without precedence in modern history. It’s not what anyone hoped or planned for, even if there’s enough reason, optimism and history to believe that the kids will be all right just the same.
Aspen High School’s Class of 2020 probably won’t get to hear the community cheer as they cross the Benedict Music Tent stage to collect their diplomas, but they are still appreciated for the sacrifices already made and will inevitably continue making as they are compelled to change direction. It’s time to shift the focus this graduation season from loss to opportunity — a forced one, but an opportunity nonetheless — to take after not who came directly before, but way before. It may not be what our graduates expect or deserve, but then again, a pandemic is hardly a call to action. What happens during and after it, though, may be exactly that.
Did COVID-19 steal your thunder? Were you accepted to college, did you get a job or settle on an alternate post-grad plan? Did you miss out on being honored or feted? Were your senior prank and ditch day plans epic? Were you devising a promposal for a dance that will now not happen? Email a few notes or details about what you (or someone else) missed to meredithXcarroll@gmail.com and then check back here to be celebrated in The Aspen Times on April 29.