Many of us remember some version of our parents or grandparents telling us how difficult they had it when they were young compared with how easy the younger generation has it.
Who can forget tales of them walking 10 miles to school every day, in the snow, uphill both ways.
That’s kind of an apt metaphor for the Class of 2021. And it’s not far off on degree of difficulty.
Perhaps more than any other generation of students in decades, the graduating class of 2021 had to do more than get good grades to arrive at graduation day.
On top of the traditional challenges faced by high school students of any generation — educational issues, social pressures, home life, puberty (sorry, kids) — this group had to deal with the once-in-a-century pandemic, which put a blizzard of obstacles before them, not just in their senior year but in the last part of their junior year.
They lost out on hours of classroom learning, replaced by the challenges of remote education, working at home alongside their siblings and often their parents, trying to prepare for the daunting world beyond high school.
They also were deprived in large part of many vital social activities, of hanging out with their friends, of participating in sports and other extracurricular activities that were either canceled, postponed or abbreviated by COVID restrictions.
If you look through the profiles of the region’s top high school students that we published last week, you might begin to notice a common thread in the part in which the students were asked about their most difficult and most rewarding experiences.
For their most difficult experiences, many listed the challenges of hybrid learning — of staying on task and maintaining their commitment to learning. Among the most rewarding experiences, several of them said, was overcoming those challenges and meeting their goals despite the difficulties they faced.
Now here they are, at the end of the road.
You made it. Both ways. Uphill.
But this school year and the last part of the previous one didn’t present a challenge for these seniors alone, and it’s not just members of the Class of 2021 that should be congratulating themselves this week.
Teachers were put under enormous pressure, with unreasonable expectations, in scenarios their college classes didn’t fully prepare them for.
It’s tough enough going into a school every day and teaching students of different educational capabilities and social circumstances.
Add the challenges of preparing lessons for remote learning every day, of keeping students at home interested and on task without being there in person to help them along, of being unable to pick up on when a student is struggling or being unable to lend a personal touch when necessary.
On top of that, they might have had their own kids at home trying to participate in school, and might have had to deal with the other challenges that working parents face.
If there isn’t a way to have teachers attend a ceremony in their honor and receive a certificate noting their great achievement, this would be the year to invent one.
While we’re recognizing achievement, let’s not forget the parents of the schoolchildren who had to adapt their lifestyles and work lives to the pandemic school year.
Finding places in their homes where all their kids could have access to computers and a quiet space to attend classes and do homework. Maybe interrupting their own work-at-home days to fix computer problems, help with schoolwork, make lunches and dinners, and deal with the usual kid issues.
If parents thought their days were long before COVID, they got a lesson in how long a day really can be — and how quickly the next day arrives.
Play a verse of “Pomp and Circumstance” and hand them a diploma, too.
And let’s not forget the kids in the lower grades, who didn’t have the benefit of eight or 10 or 11 years of school under their belts before this all hit, for whom the challenge of hybrid learning was a higher mountain to climb than that walk to school in the snow.
Even when the health crisis ends and education returns to “normal,” many will still face an uphill battle because of the learning they lost during the past year-and-a-half.
And this will fall to the educators and the parents to help them overcome.
Finally, say thanks to the school board members and administrators who had to make tough and often unpopular decisions under tremendous pressure about whether to have students attend in person or remotely, whether to allow sports teams to participate, how to procure equipment students needed to work from home, and how to appropriately apply an ever-changing and often inconsistent set of protocols handed down by the state.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with the decisions these individuals were making, few of us would have wanted to trade places with them.
The challenge, of course, doesn’t end here. The pandemic changed our approach to education, perhaps permanently.
It forced everyone involved in the education of our children to consider new possibilities and adapt to new challenges.
There is plenty to learn, plenty to evaluate, plenty to critique, plenty of room for introspection and correction.
While some students succeeded and even thrived in this environment, this school year for many students and parents will leave long-lasting consequences that can’t be ignored.
But for now, let’s celebrate the great accomplishment of getting through the school year.
Let’s honor the students who reached their goal of graduating despite the obstacles placed in their way.
And let’s honor the parents, educators, administrators and others who supported them and made their uphill climb a bit more bearable.
This is your graduation day.
Throw up your arms and celebrate.