Words to the wise, er, graduates

In accordance with our nearly annual tradition of offering send-off advice to our local high school graduates, we face unusual challenges, as do they.

These departing seniors are facing a world that is far more topsy-turvy than the one that existed when they entered high school. On that, we likely can all agree. And frankly, the normal “get thee hence and conquer the world” advice seems a little, well, hollow after the year-plus we’ve all experienced.

The coronavirus pandemic has been disruptive, by any standard. The complications caused by COVID are certainly far beyond the scope of this page. We’ve all experienced enough doublespeak, critique, second-guessing, authoritarian dictates, ill will to last a lifetime. Hopefully, it really will be that long.

Meanwhile, life begins to return to normal and one indicator of that is the graduation ceremonies to be held in normal venues, albeit with more restricted attendance, at local high schools, including Sweet Home.

It’s been a rough go for these kids, some of whom are crossing the finish line as others have faltered. Thanks to concerted efforts by school staffers, a lot more are going to be there than might have been without the phone calls, the nagging and the arm-twisting that’s been required.

So what have teens learned in the past year – since the “shelter in place” directives came down just as the spring sports season was getting started last year?

Here are some things, good or bad, that our kids – really, all of us – may have gleaned from the coronavirus experience.

– Social interaction is no longer something to be taken for granted.

On New Year’s Day 2020, how many of us even thought twice about hugging someone, shaking hands, conversing in close proximity with unmasked faces? How many of us really appreciated it? None. It was normal.

By now, many of us likely have a much deeper appreciation for the freedoms we enjoyed then, simply because we haven’t had them.

There’s a lesson to be had there, for all of us. We take a lot of things for granted, including many of our constitutional freedoms, given us by people who knew why they were including those principles of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom for individuals to arm themselves, freedom of religious belief, freedom to have a vote, etc., etc., in our founding documents.

If we lose them, we will taste bitterness similar to some of which we’ve experienced on a much more temporary level.

It may take a while to get used to interacting freely again, but it’s critical, not just for our own health, but for the health of our community.

While there may be some iota of positive to the notion that locking yourself in your room may ward off everything that makes you uncomfortable, the other side of the coin is not a pretty one. This Friday’s graduation ceremony is an important event.

Not only does it recognize the achievements of students who have gutted it out through some pretty difficult circumstances, but it provides an opportunity to interact and celebrate, which are normal behaviors for humans who have been severely curtailed in the past 16 months.

– There is no normal any more. Whether we will ever get used to breathing freely without a filter of polyester or copper or cotton impeding our air flow may be a facetious question, but the fact is, the masks have come off and while the Strawberry Festival didn’t really happen down the road in Lebanon last weekend, Sportsman’s Holiday and the Oregon Jamboree are moving forward and we can expect now to watch some fireworks this summer, even if it might be from our back porch.

Fact: There will be normal again. It may not be exactly like the past, but our world is always changing and adjusting to that is, well, normal. We will have routines. We may even pack those masks away.

We appreciate the flexibility that a lot of teens have demonstrated, learned amidst the hard realities of constantly changing circumstances that have tested us all.

Our purpose here is not to assign blame for that. What’s more important is how we respond, and behaving with grace under trying circumstances is an attribute that is a blessing not only to the health and well-being of the individual demonstrating it, but to all of us.

– Respect authority, but with reservation. In other words, what the people in charge are saying should be listened to and considered, but all of us have a brain for a reason, and we should appreciate the necessity for employing some logical analysis rather than simply swallowing what sounds good. That’s a wordy way of saying “think before you kotow – and think deeply before you vote.

We’ve seen kids’ expectations repeatedly raised, then dashed during the past 15 months-that-feels-like-an-eternity. It’s been a dose of reality, in concentrated form. There may be exceptions, of course, but in general, people will disappoint us and so to fully engage in the notion that it won’t happen is very likely to result in, well, shattered expectations. Certainly, life requires some trust in others, but we don’t do it with our eyes shut.

– Virtual is the way of the future. While social distancing and online meetings have been the watchword for longer than most of us care to remember, and sequestering has possibly helped curb the spread of COVID, there have and will continue to be costs associated with that strategy: Isolation has taken its toll on mental health, on employment, on social interaction, on quality of life.

Sure, it’s fun to shop online, but really, how does that compare to a trip to your favorite store, where you can actually handle the item your heart desires?

It isn’t news when we relate how many employees have let their bosses know they prefer working at home. They’ve gotten used to it. “Get me the equipment and I’ll do just fine right here in my living room.”

The word “company,” though, in this context is defined as a group of people who associate to accomplish a purpose. That can be done remotely, but is that superior to physical interaction, in which we can detect nonverbal, subliminal clues that aren’t nearly as evident on Zoom?

In most cases, probably not.

Kids know this. While greatly positive lessons have been learned from the COVID experience – “I’ve been reading more,” “I no longer take my family for granted,” being active and interactive will take us a lot farther than sitting on the couch with our laptop.

Here’s where we get back to typical graduation advice: Be bold. Get out there and find your path. It might be a job (there are tons of them out there right now), or it might be school.

The current crop of graduates at Sweet Home High School is loaded with kids with big potential, indicated by the number of 4.00 finishers (see page 1). We’re impressed.

So go forth, conquer, and take along some of the painful, yet valuable, lessons you’ve learned in the final years of your high school career.

Oh, and do it with class.