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Editorial: Cheers to NM’s unique and essential classes of 2020

The last few months have obviously been difficult – difficult for victims of COVID-19 and their families, children worried about their elderly parents’ health, parents worried about their children’s health and education, small-business owners forced to close, and hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans put out of work.

And while it has little to do with health or livelihood, there’s another group that’s been hit hard.

If we pause for moment and look at the May calendar, which had been full of high school and college graduation events, we can begin to understand how difficult this has been for the graduating class of 2020 – teens on the brink of adulthood and young adults ready to launch careers. And it’s all been out of their control.

For the high schoolers, imagine the emptiness of a two-month-plus-long “Senior Skip Day” with nowhere to go. Imagine planning to head to college, but now having no idea what that will look like in the fall. For the college grads, imagine trying to finish degrees online and then entering the job market, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have disappeared.

This month was supposed to be one of memories made – yearbook signings, award assemblies, walking the stage, gatherings with families and friends, celebrating with loved ones after years of hard work.

That’s all been wiped away.

Across the state, students and their schools are coming up with innovative ways to celebrate graduation this year. Volcano Vista High School hosted a “Soar Thru” drive-through celebration Friday. Seniors were encouraged to drive through the campus with their families in decorated vehicles as they were cheered on. Other schools are holding similar events.

Albuquerque Public Schools is trying to retain some of the traditions, such as the reading of names of graduates and student speeches during star-studded virtual high school graduation ceremonies on June 28.

APS recently launched 21 senior celebration videos customized for its high schools. Famous faces cheer on the seniors, including actor and La Cueva High School grad Neil Patrick Harris. They can be viewed at APS.edu and on the district’s YouTube channel.

Atrisco Heritage Academy High School senior Bianca Acosta told the Journal’s Shelby Perea her classmates’ senior years ended so abruptly they didn’t get a chance to properly say goodbye. “So I really think we needed a sense of community like this to make people feel connected.”

Rio Rancho Public Schools, local businesses and local leaders are joining together. On Monday and Tuesday, signs portraying graduating seniors will be displayed on the field of the Rio Rancho Sports Complex, where groups of five or fewer can enter and view the signs.

And the University of New Mexico will have a virtual celebration available to view online starting at 9 a.m. May. 30.

Traditional methods to honor graduates still exist, such as the pride families are expressing in the Journal’s ConGRADulations pages, published this past Sunday. One can’t look at the faces without feeling empathy. (The Journal will publish more pages on Sunday, May 31. Information is available at ABQJournal.com/grad to buy an ad, or call Lois at 823-3363 or Wayne at 823-3301 for more information.)

It’s been a tough year to be a graduate. But adversity builds strength, and that’s the silver lining here.

This class of 2020 will likely be more resilient than any other recent group of high school or college grads. They’ve learned to think on their feet and to improvise.

The Journal Editorial Board wants to salute this year’s graduates, and send them on with a message: We expect special things from you. You’ve already shown strength, resiliency and adaptability in turbulent times. And those qualities will be needed to shape the future of our state, our country and our world.

And on the lighter side – just think: When you’re much older, you will be able to brag to your grandchildren how you were part of the unique, and essential, class of COVID-19.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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