Unique Twist to Unusual School Year

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Graduation 2020

Graduation. A joyous celebratory moment normally cherished in a stroll across a dais draped in flowing school colors as your name is announced among cheers. For a moment you are lighter than air as you shake the hands of your advisors and principals and look back at your peers grinning with the acknowledgment of the hard work it took to get you from Kindergarten through 12 th grade.

For the class of 2020, this moment will not exist. Somehow the gloom and uncertainty of our times have cast a shadow over the gathering of commencement.

As advisors, teachers, aides, principals, and others have been working passionately behind the scenes to give graduates this moment of celebration, the hardest work has already been completed by the students of the class of 2020.

Bringing it Back Home

According to the New York State Education Department, with over 730 districts across the state there are 4,433 schools along with 351 charter schools; Chautauqua County rings in with just under 18,000, and Cattaraugus County accounts for over 12, 000 students all in K-12th grade.

From the Pennsylvania State Education Department, the Warren County school district includes nine schools in their four attendance areas educating over 4,000 students that were registered for the 2019-2020 school year.

With a combination of the three districts adding up to around 34,000 students, a portion of these students are now ready to take on a world that is full of so much uncertainty and unrest after completing a daunting final and unique academic year.

Now, we must also look to our young adults graduating in 2020. The information that they will learn is bountiful, and the change that they will bring to our society will be rejuvenating. Harkening back to a relevant quote from Maya Angelou, “The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.”

As these students embark on their new paths it is important to understand the professional world in front of them.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce claims that currently in 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and some form of training beyond high school. Also, noting that job openings in healthcare, community services, and STEM will grow the fastest.

Marching Band Seniors happily enjoying their time together
Marching Band Seniors happily enjoying their time together

Growth in Education

From taking their first steps into a kindergarten classroom in a Warren County, Cattaraugus County, or a Chautauqua County School all the way until the most undefined last day of class of their senior year it has been quite a ride. Challenges overcome, lost sleep studying for exams, while stress and anxiety built up over assignments. So much has been sacrificed and many lessons learned over those 13 years.

Graduation marks an incredible milestone. A moment to reflect on the past and at the same time a look forward to the challenges ahead.

For some students many of the extracurricular activities at school are what they look forward to the most. Whether it is sports, musicals, concerts, and of course senior proms, these are the rites of passage that will be absent from the ending of a long educational journey for these graduates.

Lilly Melquist, a 2020 graduate from Jamestown High School thoughtfully proclaimed that her classmates “have all felt robbed.”

“We all missed events like our last Battle of the Classes, prom, and a big graduation ceremony at the amphitheater at Chautauqua Institution. Personally, I’m upset about not getting to perform in my last musical, last band and a cappella concerts, all county music festival, and dance recital,” Ms. Melquist stated.

Homeschool Experience

It has been fascinating to watch over the past few months how school faculty have gone above and beyond to try to make this tough situation a little bit sweeter for these graduating seniors. Whether it has been creative videos online, lawn signs, banners hanging downtown, and many other gracious signs of well wishes, it is abundantly clear how much these faculty members have enjoyed watching the class of 2020 grow.

Brad Peterson, a global history teacher at Jamestown High School, said that this has been the strangest semester of his 15 years at JHS.

“So many teachers jumped right into the new methods. We would meet once a week on Zoom to share ideas of successful teaching strategies from home.” Mr. Peterson stated.

“We came up with some cool ideas that really helped to engage our students, even if we couldn’t see them in person.” said Mr. Peterson.

Another important aspect mentioned by Mr. Peterson is the fact that some students unfortunately do not have internet connections at home, “we also created paper learning opportunities for our students and then delivered to their homes.”

Adapting to so many challenges faced within the last semester of this school year truly created stronger connections between teachers, while also allowing for learning to continue for all students. Although the conditions were not ideal, it is fascinating to see how these incredible teachers banded together and creatively assisted students through the end of the school year.

Improvisation

Graduates will be bombarded with countless inspirational quotes in the upcoming weeks, but one that appears relevant during this pandemic is from late night host Stephen Colbert: “Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along”.

Yes, life is all about improvisation and giving yourself the best chance to succeed. Completing high school while gathering educational, social, and numerous life skills will all assist these graduates in whatever may come next.

Light in the Darkness

Throughout pop culture moments of high school senior years are often shown to be the best times of a student’s life. Numerous movies, books, musicals, and shows often build upon the anticipation of reaching that final few months of high school.

While sifting through the hard feelings that come along with these missed opportunities Melquist sees a shining light in the distance, stating, “What makes this OK is that the class of 2020 is going to be talked about for years to come. Not all people will be able to sit down and tell their kids and grandkids that they were part of the class of 2020.”

Friends will say their goodbyes for now as they all head out on different paths. Some to two- or four-year universities, trade schools, the military, starting a fellowship, or travel, while others will enter the workforce. The future is wide open.

Lack of Closure

“It stinks, we don’t get closure on what has been a great four years,” Ms. Melquist lamented.

Although these times have been incredibly difficult and unforeseen, this year’s graduates need to hold their heads up high and take on the world with a smile on their faces, knowing that it is possible to overcome and achieve through any bizarre circumstance.

“At first we all believed it would be a temporary separation and we would be back with our students May 1st through June. As days turned into weeks, we all realized that this was going to go through the end of the semester,” stated Mr. Peterson.

Hopefully when Labor Day rolls around in September these teachers will be able to welcome back their students once again, but one large group of students will be absent: The Class of 2020. After switching from the classroom to homeschool, they will now be changing from High School seniors to High School graduates.

Whether they walk across the dais with a small group of family or drive across the Kinzua Dam to receive their diplomas these graduates have achieved the peak of high school education through this pandemic.

Graduation is a unique milestone in life. It is achieved by hard work, adaptability, learning, and growth. A lot of these lessons were learned by students and teachers in the previous few months, but now that they have become improvisational they are ready to take on any challenge the world may throw at them.