Oh, gracious! Here we are at graduation time again! This year … well, it’s a bit odd this year, isn’t it?

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

Arguably, last year was even stranger. For most of the academic year, everything was tooling along as per normal, and then wham! Right before graduation and in the space of a few weeks, really, everything was off. Which is sad.

My own son, my eldest, had graduated high school the year before. I had really enjoyed it. Such a swell of emotions: pride and joy mixed with the confounding heartache of watching your child do what you had worked so hard for them to do: launch!

Graduation is steeped in ceremony because it is meant to be a big deal. It is a moment of closing one chapter of your life and beginning another. It is the metaphorical gazing out at the wide vista of new possibilities. It seemed so profoundly unfair to last year’s seniors, whose graduation was submerged in global fear and uncertainty.

Not having any concrete help to offer, I had written a column urging those students, and others besides, to write about their experience. I noted that they were living through history in real time. That the next generation would want to know what it was like and solid notes would help tell the story. A high school English teacher saw the column and handed it to his students. Several of them opted to not only write, but to write to me. What a gift.

I wound up having some of the most enlightening back and forth exchanges about their experiences in that year and what it was like  to become an adult at a time when all the usual “rights and privileges thereto” were on hold. Maybe canceled. I hope that every one of those students, as well as the rest of that global class, found their footing.

Which brings us back to this year and the graduating class of 2021.

On the upside, it is looking good on the celebration front. Vaccinations are happening, the spread (here) is slowing, and mandates are being lifted. What’s more, after a year of living virtually, we are all so well versed in Zoom meetings and livestreams that sending grandma the link to watch graduation from the comfort of her home (unthinkable before) is not at all strange. Which means families might get more access than before.

But that doesn’t mean it feels “normal.”

Graduates this year (and my second/final son is one of them), have had a strange senior year indeed. So much of what a senior year is all about – playing sports, hanging out with friends, after-school jobs, prom – was virtual, altered beyond recognition or simply not possible.

For some, this year has been staggeringly hard. Others discovered learning from home liberating. All experienced massive changes and stress.

And yet, all through this year I have watched these emerging adults rally in the face of overwhelming uncertainty to meet the day with joy and humor. They learned how to do classes online. They learned how to manage and budget their time in new ways. Most of all, they continued to show up for each other.

The graduating class of 2021 has experienced history, re-written the norms and is preparing to launch into their new lives. They have created their footing, and I cannot wait to see in what ways they use their knowledge to shape our collective future.

Congratulations! What a joy to know you.

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