Graves: Something special for the Class of 2020


Amid the current outbreak in our world and community, I have been giving some thought to those who have fallen victim to it. I do this in part because it helps give me perspective, reminds me that I really have it pretty good, with nothing at all to whine about. I do this, as well, because we all need to consider that there are so many who are really worse off than we. Until you know this, you can’t help ease another’s burden.

The victims of this disease are legion: the dying, the ill, the unemployed, the business owner whose enterprise has been shuttered, the lonely. Professionally, I both empathize and sympathize with my students. And I reserve my greatest professional concern for this year’s seniors. Not even the Class of 2020 could have seen this thing coming, a time when recognitions, banquets and even prom would be swept aside like so much flotsam before flood waters.

Perhaps the greatest pitty is the loss of commencement. May 17 should have seen 200 black-gowned, mortar-boarded MHS graduates, their families and friends, their teachers, (as well as the occasional tourist who wandered in unsuspectingly to inspect the murals within) packed into the Corn Palace to be serenaded by Edward Elgar’s familiar march and enthralled by speakers from their own ranks. To revisit shared memories, to rejoice in and be recognized for their accomplishments. To ponder the milestone … together. To all be together one last time before saying goodbye. Among the few regrets in my life have been those occasions when I lost the chance at that final farewell.

As more seasoned adults, we sometimes pooh-pooh such rituals of youth as, with the benefit of greater experience, of little import. Yet there is an inherent unfairness in doing so. We were 18 once and wouldn’t have missed commencement for the world. That our more jaded looking back sees it somewhat different doesn’t mean we should ask them to somehow not be 18.

If there is good news in all of this it is that Dr. Childs, MHS principal, has been planning for this eventuality for some time. He has or will soon call into virtual meeting the various officers of the Class of 2020 to brainstorm some ways of modifying or rescheduling commencement and then polling their numbers to see how they want to collectively handle this upset. Will it be how they initially imagined their commencement exercises? Certainly not. But it will be something different, perhaps something special, something unique, something to set off the experience of the Class of 2020 as exceptional. For in the unexpected can come the distinct.


On very rare occasions, I am sometimes called to preside at a wedding. Many years ago, I did so at the wedding of a much beloved niece. Her mother wanted things to be special (what mother of the bride doesn’t?) and since the ceremony was to be held in the backyard of their family home and imbued with the exquisite music of a string quartet, she systematically visited every neighbor within a quarter of mile to request that during the event no one mowed their lawn or played a boom box or had a gathering that would make noise of any sort. I swear I saw a robin that day with a tiny little muzzle. As we gathered, silence reigned.

Then just before the vows were about to be said, a familiar vehicle pulled into the cul-de-sac. An ice cream truck blaring “Turkey in the Straw.” The quartet twittered. The bride and groom smiled at one another. But I was not worried about them. I was worried about the mother of the bride. When I glanced at her, she simply rolled her eyes and accepted the decision of the muses. And laughed. With that laugh, the jingle of the ice cream truck became a family joke, a family memory. When the bride’s sister was married some years later, the ceremony ended with all in attendance enjoying the fare from a line of ice cream trucks which pulled in just as I said “You may kiss the bride.”

Weddings are often that way. What is remembered is not what was carefully planned but what was unplanned. Like the best man dropping the ring but catching it “on the first bounce.”

So it will assuredly be with the commencement of the Class of 2020. If I know this group of young people — and I have known them since they first stepped into their kindergarten classrooms at LBW, GBR, Longfellow and John Paul II — they will make something special out of this challenging finale.

They will because the Class of 2020 is just that, special.

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