By Brian Arrigo
The Covid-19 pandemic is a thief. It has stolen loved ones from our families, deprived us of our freedom, and ripped away our sense of social assurance. It has caused heartache and devastating financial adversity.
But for students, the Covid-19 pandemic is a uniquely cruel assailant.
Last week’s announcement by Governor Charlie Baker that schools are closed for the remainder of this academic year provoked an especially poignant sense of despair. Suddenly, all of the events and activities that mark the culmination of a school year vanished. Assemblies, field trips, class days, proms, and graduations, and all of the anticipation and joy that accompanies each of them, were slashed by the curse of this relentless pandemic. Spring athletic seasons were wiped out, a worse fate than the winter seasons that were cut short in March.
As we all endure our own sense of quarantine fatigue, as we tire of television and confinement, it’s helpful to reflect on the plight of others. It might soften our own discouragement. When we appreciate that everyone else also has lost something deeply personal and important, we feel less isolated. And while our focus is rightly on the frail and the ill and the vulnerable, it is equally right to consider the students among us.
Students are a distinctive segment of our society. They gather daily in their classrooms, share the challenges of learning, and reveal their secrets and dreams mostly to each other. They proudly represent our city in athletic and scholastic competitions. They volunteer in their community, habitually tolerate the well-intentioned guidance and advice imparted by their elders, and quietly seek their individual paths and passions.
As spring arrives, the results of a year of academic diligence begin to sprout. At every grade level, the sense of accomplishment pairs with excitement about the future. This is particularly true of high school seniors–and their parents—who revel in the completion of 12 years of growth. Spring of senior year represents a true rite of passage into adulthood.
The Class of 2020 won’t get the chance to enjoy the same thrill and fun times as all of their predecessors. They will miss out on the treats of senior year—the elegant prom gowns, gaudy tuxedoes, awards nights, caps and gowns, and “senior skip day.” Their milestones will be achieved in isolation, shared emotionally but not with the hugs and high-fives that epitomize the moment. Their celebrations will be muted. They will miss out on those special times that generate memories for every class that went before them.
In that, though, they will become the most unique graduating class in history.
Wherever the future takes every member of the Class of 2020, they will arrive having travelled a different course.
Students relish their individuality. It makes them special and clears a way to new ideas and unparalleled values. The Class of 2020 will have an unusual grasp of what it means to suffer loss, and a clear view of how a community can bond for the benefit of others. This Class will reap the benefit of unprecedented experience.
Years from now, the Class of 2020 will recall that starting in March, their classrooms were reduced to a computer screen. They will recall that everything was “virtual”, and they will recall how the communities in which they circulated changed, seemingly overnight. Roadways emptied, places of worship closed. Stores opened only for essential items, and going to them wasn’t much fun. They will recall this strange time and how it shaped their lives.
While we empathize with their disappointment at how the school year ended, I am confident that from this ordeal, the Class of 2020 will distinguish itself as no class of graduates ever has.
They are already on a path to prominence. The Class of 2020 is, and forever will be, one of a kind.