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The hard-fought successes of pandemic-era grads

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been an extraordinary time for students at all grade levels, from kindergarten to college.

Students have been asked to stretch in every conceivable way, shifting overnight to remote classes and then continuing on with everything from phonics to calculus with distant teachers.

They kept learning to the backdrop of a national reckoning on race, a bitterly divided presidential election and not always reliable rural internet.

In recent months, they’ve navigated a return back to in-person learning defined by masks, distancing and other limitations. The upside-down experience has meant outdoor band lessons, spring football and the modification or outright cancelation of once storied activities and traditions.

As we move into May, we celebrate both the academic accomplishments and the fortitude of our local students as we all look to coming better times. And we extend special congratulations to those who made it to an educational milestone this spring despite the pandemic-related challenges – our local elementary, middle school, high school and college graduates.

Over the coming month, families and school staff will honor graduates at all levels at events that will feel extra special because they’ll be in-person, something we no longer take for granted.

In coming years, long after tassels have been laid in memory boxes and commencement programs secured into scrapbooks, pandemic school will remain these students’ story to tell.

High school graduates will share how homecoming and prom, and everything in-between, changed.

College graduates will share how they finished a senior thesis while sheltering in their apartment or their parents’ basement.

Middle and elementary school graduates will remember virtual gym class and yawning awake to morning announcements on a Chromebook balanced on the dining room table. They’ll remember the first day back at their school building, and the eye smiles and air hugs from teachers.

“You made it,” is something we perennially say to graduates. It has deeper meaning this year.

In 2021, “you made it,” in an extraordinary time.

If strength is borne of struggle and forced tenacity, the Class of 2021 may be among the fiercest and most resilient graduates we ever see. We are excited to watch what comes of that as they step into their next chapter.

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