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Finding pomp in the worst circumstance

If ever a group of young men and women could understandably and justifiably have a chip on their shoulder, it would be the Class of 2020.

They’ve really been through the wringer. Born in the shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, they have lived in a nation at war for their entire lives. When they were just hitting kindergarten and first grade, the country tumbled into the Great Recession. And everyone in this graduating class also bears the tragic distinction of having been in high school when a fellow student was murdered by another. Great Mills seniors, especially, have dealt with that memory for two years.

And now, the coronavirus pandemic which has throttled the world this late winter and spring has also had a profound effect on everyone involved with the education system. That includes, of course, the Class of 2020. With their triumphant senior year cut short, these students have been studying online for two months and separated from their friends and teachers. What’s more, they were cheated out of proms, sports playoffs and the pomp and circumstance of graduating with their peers. That would have been this week: Lackey, La Plata, McDonough, North Point, St. Charles, Thomas Stone and Westlake high school graduates would have walked across the stage. They would have been joined by their fellow seniors at private schools in the region.

But they are making the best of it. They are facing yet another challenge with distinction and dignity. The speeches will be virtual and not in person, but will assuredly be just as inspiring. Maybe this year, all that graduation-day talk from superintendents, principals, class presidents and salutatorians about a brighter hope for the future will resonate even stronger in ears and hearts.

So for graduating young men and women in Charles County, their moment has finally arrived after 13 years of study and all that goes with it. A moment of real achievement, satisfaction and triumph — even if there’s not a live crowd to roar its approval.

No longer children, they are ready for the next phase of their young lives. College, military service, careers, marriage, families and all the other challenging, exciting and beautiful trappings of adult life lie before them like a yellow brick road. The sky’s the limit.

These local graduates have shared a lot, and now they will be going on their separate paths from here on out.

Their school careers were judged by numbers on tests and letters on report cards. But how their time in the classroom will shape their lives and careers is something that can’t be quantified by those numbers and letters. It will be revealed indirectly in the knowledge and values that inform their choices, and how they meet the challenges they will soon face. But it would be a mistake, and it would diminish their achievements so far, to suggest that now Charles high school graduates are about to enter the “real world” for the first time. They’d be the first to tell you that high school is certainly already the real world — with all its complexities, its challenges, its accommodations, its obstacles, its joys and its sorrows. Many have had to grow up fast.

Indeed, the journey our newest high school graduates have already traveled deserves to be acknowledged, respected and celebrated. These young people have navigated an increasingly rigorous academic path to get to this point. Most of them are much more familiar and comfortable with advancing technology than their elders.

And maybe best of all, they posses an enviable energy, enthusiasm and eagerness to turn the next corner.

Nobody of any age knows what life has in store for us next, but Charles graduates are hitting the ground running. They have worked hard, and they deserve recognition. We salute them. We congratulate them. Even if most of us have to do so from a distance.