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Class of Covid: The overlooked graduates of the class of 2020

As the strangest school year in modern history draws to a close, many of us have lamented the losses felt by the high school and college seniors who should be exchanging their farewells, walking across stages and holding big graduation parties with all of their loved ones, but will be celebrating this momentous occasion in quarantine, instead. My heart breaks for them, but I’d like to take the opportunity to recognize other graduates who are missing out on major milestones in their young lives.

I was planning on attending the eighth grade graduation for my former students at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen.

St. Joan of Arc is a small, one-track school, which means most members of this small class have been in class together every day since they learned how to write their names. This is an experience unique to private schools. I had the privilege of teaching them art for five years, as well as sixth grade language arts. They are a very studious, yet very creative group of young people and, in many ways, like a dream class you might see in a movie. Their graduation would be the last time they would share the “dream class” identity before splintering off to separate high schools. I was looking forward to celebrating one final Mass with them, but I can still pray for each one of them from home on their graduation day. It does make it easier to know that I will be seeing some of them at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore, where I now teach.

Collin, my oldest, should be graduating from fifth grade. His situation is unusual because he transferred to public school toward the end of fourth grade. He doesn’t share the bond that the kids at his small, rural school have had with each other since kindergarten, but he does miss a few friends he’s made and is sad that he will probably never see them again because he is not moving on to the same school as they are.

Most fifth graders (at least the ones I know) don’t have phones, so Collin doesn’t have any of their numbers and for obvious security reasons, the school can’t give them out. Quarantine has been particularly isolating for Collin and other kids his age who live “in the middle of nowhere” and don’t have social media. Fortunately, Collin still keeps in touch with his St. Joan of Arc friends and will be joining them in the fall.

Leo is in the final stretch of kindergarten and I can’t help but feel that he’s had a piece of his childhood stolen. Although kindergarten has become more rigorous since I was five in the late 1980s, it’s still a place to have fun and make friends first and learn second.

Leo and I complete his online work, by watching videos of his teacher and completing some basic assignments, but there is no circle time or show and tell. There’s no raising your hand to ask the teacher a question or contribute a non-sequitur to class discussions. There are no trips to the art room, the music room, the gym and the library. The hardest moment for Leo came the other day when I gave him his rest mat towel to use for the pool. It has a tractor and his name embroidered on it.

“I can’t use that,” he said. “I need that for rest time at school.”

I had to explain to him that he wouldn’t have rest time in school anymore. He didn’t take it well.

“I’m not ready for first grade!” he said. Kindergarten graduation, it seems, is the hard line that separates little kids from big kids.

Leo isn’t the only one who is missing out on an end-of-school ceremony. Teagan, three, should be putting on a performance with her preschool classmates, which is no small undertaking! Today, I went to pick up her belongings and saw her teacher, Miss Sharon, who, after five years of teaching Barberry kids, has become like family to us. It breaks my heart that Teagan’s year with Miss Sharon and Miss Robin had to be cut short and that I won’t get to hear Teagan and her friends sing “This Little Light of Mine” on the altar at their graduation. Maybe some day next school year, I will have the chance to drop Teagan off to her four-year-old class and see her and her friends exchange one of their big group hugs.

My hats go off to all graduates of all grades everywhere. In enduring this, you have gained wisdom, skills, patience, and appreciation that will guide you everywhere you go. Perhaps, consider this motivation to graduate from something else again some day! The stage is waiting for you!