Decorated mortarboards

In a previous, more-ordinary year, Ilwaco High School graduates decorated their caps for their special day. The pandemic means this tradition isn’t possible in 2020, and yet there still is cause for great celebration as local seniors come to the end of an important phase of their young lives.

There is no asterisk required for the Class of 2020.

There is no, “Yes, but …” needed to characterize their final school year.

Of course, spring sports and music contest records kept by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association will say, “Not held in 2020.”

But as local educators will attest, in completing their studies to meet graduation requirements, members of the Class of 2020 have demonstrated they have the flexibility and stick-with-it-ness to succeed in ways their elder brothers and sisters did not have to.

Onward into an uncertain future

The options facing graduates from Ilwaco and Naselle — and in South Bend, Raymond and Willapa Valley — remain the same. Further education and trade schools beckon. Many institutions of higher learning have successfully adapted to remote teaching methods; their credentials are no less valid. Trade and technical schools, once they resume normalcy, continue to be a viable option. Society has long since grasped the reality that we need skilled plumbers, carpenters and electricians just as much as doctors, lawyers and academics.

The work world will have changed, however.

A recent article in The Atlantic mentions that the 3.7 million high school graduates will enter the adult world in one of its most bleak times, with the effects of the economic shutdown continuing and observers predicting a prolonged nationwide downturn. “The Class of 2020 has some extraordinarily rotten luck to graduate right now, and the unfortunate timing could set many of them back financially and professionally for years,” the magazine noted.

While that’s a sensible dose of realism, we prefer to take a more optimistic view. The pandemic and the associated shutdown has sparked a fresh interest in questioning some very core assumptions of our society. Permanent employment disappeared as a concept some decades ago. But what will the future of the workplace be — now we have revealed who the real “key workers” are and embraced the use of technology to demonstrate that many more people can work remotely? The pandemic has also revealed the commonplace acceptance of tying the affordability of health care to employment as a dangerous sham, though changing that is a discussion for another day.

Today’s graduates, who can now vote, of course, need to determine what sort of society they are going to build for themselves. They should lead that discussion, because soon our world will be theirs.

Lots of support

As we welcome their voices, let’s pause to thank those who have helped them get to this stage. The switch from classroom teaching to a distance-learning approach using computer technology was accomplished by educators almost overnight. It was so remarkable that one observer likened it to the Apollo 13 astronauts who encountered serious problems in their spacecraft and jury rigged an emergency solution that brought them home to Earth.

Parents have joined with school staff to try to ensure they have not missed out on graduation experiences, using filmed options, motorized parades and other “safety-first” approaches to simulate their end-of-school ritual.

And organizations like the Ocean Beach Education Foundation and a score of other local organizations have continued their year-round work to help bridge the gaps between what taxpayers provide and what students need. The foundation provided a pool of funds — up to $10,000 — for the school district to buy books for the students, delivered at the same time as meals. And it is always gratifying in graduation season to see all the scholarships funded by Pacific County entities.

So today we join educators, parents and family members in saluting the Class of 2020 from the five high schools of Pacific County.

They have endured the loss of one-third of their senior year. And those involved in music, drama, sports and other activities, have lost an opportunity to bond with their team mates and shine on the playing field or stage.

But they have adapted and overcome.

They have proved their resilience.

And they deserve our applause as they head out into the adult world.

There is no asterisk required for the Class of 2020.

Let’s all toss our caps in the air to celebrate their achievements and wish them well.

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