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the occasions lady and

The Class of 2020
by Audrey Poff, illustration by Brittney Guest

When we realized several years ago that our family would have two graduation ceremonies in May 2020, our biggest concern was whether or not they would be scheduled to take place in two different cities at the same time. A global pandemic disrupting our lives seemed more like a plot for a science fiction movie than a cause for concern.

Sophie, our youngest daughter, is a senior at Jonesboro High School. Adam, our oldest son, is a senior at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Like many other families, we were looking forward to celebrating this milestone with both of them this month. As a cloud of uncertainty looms over all of us amidst concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the reality that we may have to settle for two virtual graduation ceremonies is disappointing on many fronts.

I recently had the opportunity to help Sophie order her high school graduation announcements. It should have been fun, but in reality, it was complicated and depressing. When it’s the end of April and you have no date to insert for an actual graduation ceremony, it hits you square in the face. You can’t tiptoe around it any longer – there will be no actual end-of-the-year awards programs, no prom, no graduation and, for many, no closure.

This year’s seniors are experiencing a whirlwind of emotions right now, and some of them are missing experiences they’ve waited their entire lives to have. It’s important to remember they have worked hard for this and to treat them with grace and empathy.

Although it may be necessary, substituting virtual events for the real thing is no consolation to them. The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus lists the following words as some of the synonyms for virtual: so-called, apparent, assumed, supposed. For this year’s graduating class, everything is virtual these days. To be honest, no one really wants a so-called awards banquet or a supposed graduation ceremony. Unfortunately, that is the only alternative that many seniors in the Class of 2020 will have.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently announced that traditional high school graduation ceremonies will not be allowed prior to July 1. Rather than transform a significant milestone like graduation into a virtual event, school districts should step up and deliver the real thing at a later date if at all possible. The Class of 2020 has already sacrificed the best part of their senior year.

At a time when the world is facing a crisis that will be recorded in history books, our family is thankful to be healthy and honored to have two seniors in the Class of 2020 who are excited about their next journeys. Sophie plans to attend Arkansas State University in the fall to study biology, and Adam will begin his residency in emergency medicine at UAMS this summer. There is much to celebrate, and we will find a way to make that happen.

Congratulations, seniors! You can achieve whatever you want in life. We believe in you.