Mike Zielinski

Mike Zielinski

We all wish we could throw out COVID-19 and summon the old normalcy, if only for one day. Graduation day.

High school commencement exercises are as American as apple pie, an annual rite of passage wreathed in pomp and circumstance. But high school graduations are transpiring in an altered environment, sans the usual sheen and gloss for the Class of 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrust us into a world where social distancing is paramount. Students are finishing the academic year with online learning that has been burning up cyberspace like a lit fuse.

It is a time requiring innovation and school districts are finding creative ways to celebrate their graduating seniors while keeping them and their families safe. No matter the format, graduation ceremonies remain depots for dreams.

Nobody wants to dim the nostalgic glow of this milestone, even if the graduation staples of caps and gowns are joined by masks and sanitized diplomas this year.

The Hamburg Class of 2020 walked across the stage to receive their diplomas one at a time during their allotted five minutes over a four-day span. Seniors were allowed up to four family members to attend their graduation and everyone was required to wear a mask. Seniors who chose not to participate were given the option to submit a video that will be included in an upcoming virtual presentation on YouTube.

Oley Valley graduates also donned caps and gowns to receive their diplomas during appointments staggered throughout two days. To retain some elements of a traditional commencement ceremony, Oley hired a production company to produce a video to be used as a virtual graduation.

Daniel Boone opted for a virtual graduation ceremony and there also were two parades honoring graduating seniors. One parade drove by their homes while the second parade had seniors and their families driving by four district schools so the seniors could wave to their teachers.

Wilson chose a drive-in commencement ceremony. Students and their families drove in a procession through the neighborhoods that surround the high school. Those vehicles then convened in the high school parking lot where the ceremony took place. The ceremony was shown on four large drive-in movie theater-style screens, followed by fireworks.

Jill Hackman, the executive director of the Berks County Intermediate Unit, said the county’s 18 school districts have considered virtual ceremonies, issuing diplomas on an individual basis, holding community parades or rescheduling the in-person ceremony for a later date.

Still, I’m sure some graduates and their families are experiencing tangled emotions over being deprived traditional commencements. After all, graduation is a joyous event, a time for everyone to come together as a class and celebrate their experiences and successes over the years.

Sadly as it enters a somber world, it’s likely the Class of 2020 never will be together again as a group, deprived of a proper communal launch into the future.

High school ends with a fresh start, which is why commencement signals a new beginning. But this year’s graduates are coming of an age in a crackling world of increased friction and uncertainty.

Stepping into the world as it is falling apart is a monumental challenge.

For those graduates entering the work force, will there be any jobs to be had in this reeling economy?

For those graduates pursuing higher education, will their college of choice have on-campus schooling in the fall?

If not, will some students opt to take a gap year and wait for the full college experience and in essence put their lives on hold for a year?

Of course, some kids who need summer jobs this year to offset some college expenses probably won’t find work.

But one thing the Class of 2020 has to never forget during this turbulent time: It's not where and how the egg cracks, it's where the bird flies.

Congratulations to the Class of 2020 as it embarks toward new horizons.

Mike Zielinski, a resident of Berks County, is a columnist, novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

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