Staff Columnist

The class of 2020, disrupted but not defeated

If all goes according to plan Sunday afternoon, we’ll be arriving at Door 10 at Linn-Mar High School for my daughter Tess’s graduation ceremony. It will be a compact group, just the graduate and four family members.

Happy to say I made the cut. I’ll be the one in the pictures with hair like Bob Ross.

“Masks preferred,” meticulous directions from the school direct. Will do.

From Door 10 we’ll be whisked to one of five “family areas” in the school cafeteria/commons, with an ample 10 feet of social distancing space between each. The five families will then be led to the auditorium, maintaining our ten-foot cushion. The graduates will line up at the stage entrance, still 10-feet apart. We’ll be led into the auditorium, where we’re told to spread out.

Graduate names will be read. They’ll walk across the stage and pick up a diploma placed on a table by a school board member. No handshakes.

The families will head for auditorium Door 1 and on to the foyer for pictures. Then we’ll be escorted to Door 13, and out of the building.

Congratulations, class of 2020! The historic class of 2020! Disrupted, but not defeated.

So, sure, this is not what we were expecting a few months ago when we envisioned graduation day. But the COVID-19 pandemic intervened. Pomp and Circumstance is yielding to a change in plans. A change in all the plans, everywhere.

Tess, like scores of seniors, was looking forward to the many milestones in her final months of a high school career. Instead, it all ended on some random Friday in March. Not the end of the world, of course, but an abrupt, sad ending nonetheless.

But she’s relieved and actually excited that her school district is working to salvage seniors’ big moment on stage. Linn-Mar’s five-at-a-time graduation ceremonies stretched from Thursday through Sunday for more than 500 kids. That’s going above and beyond, and the district deserves our gratitude.

And, frankly, I’m looking on the bright side. After the countless hours at school events, art shows, “family fun nights,” and in so many lengthy concerts in this very auditorium, we get a 15-minute graduation ceremony. It’s fun-sized, at last. After all of the hours sitting on uncomfortable bleachers and chairs, straining my back and taking years off my life, Linn-Mar says, “Don’t worry, you’ll be out Door 13 in just a few minutes.”

Refreshing brevity. It doesn’t have to be just for pandemics.

But the coronavirus is cheating us out of a full-blown graduation party. As a kid, the son of a high school counselor and coach, I was dragged to countless graduation receptions. Hours stuck in stiff dress-up clothes, listening to adult small talk. You can only eat so much cake.

Finally, this spring, the party was going to be for my kid at my place. I was going to be the one talking about boring stuff, sipping punch and testing the theory you can only eat so much cake.

Instead, we have a global pandemic. It figures. If only those strange little cream mints were the cure.

Graduation has sort of been lost in a fog as we’ve stumbled around in the so-called new normal, working from home, not getting haircuts. Tess has been wrapping up her courses online and took three AP exams this past week.

So we haven’t done much summing up and reminiscing. My wife and I sat on the deck the other night thinking back to the day Tess was so little she could barely climb the school bus steps. Now, she’ll soon be cruising off to college.

Oddly, most of my wife’s memories involve crying. Crying on her first day of school. Crying at her last fifth-grade vocal concert. Crying during the “clap out,” when Indian Creek Elementary teachers would applaud kids as they departed on the last day of school. Apparently, I’m emotionally repressed, or perhaps better at hiding my verklempt moments.

I won’t forget the big, blue papier-mache dolphin that dominated an elementary art show, or an egg-carton desk organizer that did not dominate the Invention Convention. There was the time, after her first softball practice, when Tess asked me what, exactly, is she supposed to cover second base with? And then there’s the tournament game, years later, where she was named MVP, playing second base. I’m sure the memories will come flowing back this weekend.


We’re proud of her, naturally. Her work ethic is astounding. An A-student who never had to be told to do her school work, or to not procrastinate. If anything, we had to tell her to take a break. Where does she get it? You have to admire it.

She’s graduating with distinction, no less, despite that one time we forgot to fill her lunch account. Some of you never thought we’d make it.

So congratulations Tess. Your graduation shrank. But your road ahead knows no bounds.

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