A word about the Class of 2021

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By the end of the month, half of our grandchildren will have graduated from high school.

It was over 26 years ago that our first grandchild was born. My wife and I had three boys. My father was one of eight children with six of them being boys. My parents had two boys. So, we were prepared for another boy. Imagine our surprise, and my wife’s delight, when a granddaughter was presented to us! I am convinced that my wife’s prayers on that matter prevailed.

The next three grandchildren were boys and I thought, “Here we go again!” But the next eight in a row were girls. That’s twelve grands with three being boys and nine being girls, breaking the male tradition to bits.

We were glad we had our kids young, and our first grandchild was born to young parents. “We are young enough to enjoy them,” I thought. And we were, with attendance at sporting events, recitals, book fair days at schools, and, later, proms and watching the older ones grow up.

Eighteen and a half years after the first granddaughter was born, we attended our first grand-graduation. Now, with the close of this month, there will have been six of those.

I think of all the graduations, this one, The Class of 2021, will be the most remembered but not because it has been a great year for the kids. This will be the first group of seniors whose total experience was wrapped up in the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2020 seniors were affected, but only for three months. This is, in the Chinese world where the Lunar New Year is observed, the Year of the Ox. For the 2021 graduates, this has been the Year of the Mask.

While the 2020 grads had their year interrupted, the current crop of graduates had their senior year held hostage by the virus. For me, my senior year was the best of my high school career. In terms of social activities, sports events, dating, and all that goes with being a senior, it was great. I wonder how this class will view their senior year?

I have spoken to two teachers, an elementary school teacher and a high school teacher. Both feel that the year was almost a total loss. Those most impacted, of course, are the students.

The schools, in my estimation, did the best they could under the unique circumstances within which they had to work. And most students, I believe, will adapt, improvise, and overcome the shortcomings of their senior year.

In my father’s generation, the students faced a much greater threat than a virus. My father dropped out of school at the age of 17, as did many young men, and enlisted to fight in a world war. He did his duty in the United States Navy and, when the Axis powers were defeated, came home to finish school, get married, have kids, buy a house, have a career, and get on with the rest of his life. These kids are not descended from fearful men and women. Most of them will do fine.

And, when they have kids and grandkids, they will have their own stories to tell about the time the nation was shut down by an unseen enemy and how they coped, survived, and even thrived. They may not (as their grandparents may have claimed) have had to walk to school, uphill, in the snow, both ways, but it will be their story. And it will be unique. They will have had the most unusual senior year in modern history in America.

As we come to, what appears to be, the beginning of the end of the Pandemic of 2020-2021, let us thank the teachers who weren’t trained for this experience but did it anyway, the parents who became home school administrators and teachers, and, especially, the Class of 2021 who had a year they never would have expected nor imagined.

But this school year did teach the grads some important life lessons: (1) Life is not predictable, (2) Life is not always fair, (3) Disappointments come to everyone, (4) The tough times will not last forever, and (5) The rest of life is a blank slate and will be what you make of it.

Congratulations, graduates! Now go, do your best in your endeavors, and continue to make us all proud!

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). The church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

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