Marfa Meanderthal: Graduated Thoughts

One of the results of the disruption of our lives and upheaval of our entire world produced by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the recognition of those we see as heroes, up until now mostly unnoticed by most of us. We have honored our healthcare workers and first responders, our essential workers from grocery clerks to sanitation workers, parents-turned-homeschool teachers,teachers who remained available to their students via telephone and computer communication, farmers, ranchers and foodbank workers.

But there is one group nobody has yet called “heroes”: the students in the graduating classes of our high schools. They have had their rites of passage either taken away or grossly altered, and I believe that they are just as heroic as anyone, persevering in the face of adversity and completing this phase of their education without the celebration and fanfare that those of us before them enjoyed and maybe even took for granted. And so to these young people, and particularly to the graduating class of Marfa High, I am dedicating this column.

You have completed high school and are now about to embark on the next adventures in your lives. Many of you will be attending college or other preparatory training for careers, perhaps in fields that some of us have never even heard of. The world awaiting you is far different from the one your grandparents grew up in. Others of you will be taking a giant step directly into this new “real” world. Frankly, any of those options would scare me! It can really be strange out there, and you are going to encounter things that your elders have no experience with. But seeing what you have already dealt with, I am certain you will handle all of it successfully. I salute you.

Traditionally, partly to celebrate accomplishment and partly to mask apprehension over what comes next, graduating seniors have had parties, dances, banquets, trips and other activities, some extravagant and some even a little foolish, to mark this milestone in their lives. High school has for generations ended with a bang like fireworks. But this year the world changed suddenly for all of you. After spring break you were simply told, “Don’t come back.”

Abruptly turned upside down, the world as you knew it changed and life is now dictated by a disease that we know little about and definitely did not see coming. That meant no prom, no trips, no feasts, picnics, parties – just, “Don’t come back.” Anybody up for a slap in the face with a cold dead fish?

The school system did their best to soften the blow. Using computers and the best remote instruction capabilities they had available, classes were completed and graduation requirements were met. But it still feels a little hollow, doesn’t it? This (bleeping) pandemic has cheated you out of what could have been some of your best memories. Nobody would begrudge you a little bitterness and resentment. But your class has made history. No one in recent history has dealt with the ramifications of such a disease, and no one in America has been told before that it wasn’t safe to go to school. You handled it, though, and graduated anyway. You are true heroes. And it is important that you know your disappointment is felt and shared by us old people who had our senior celebrations way back when. We would give you some of our grand moments, if it worked that way. And if you like, we will be glad to join you in a loud denunciation of current circumstances. Hiss, boo, rats and other exclamations that can’t be printed here!

You are, however, having a proper graduation ceremony, complete with caps and gowns, speeches, acknowledgements and a final senior circle. You will be presented your diplomas and you will transfer your tassels in the age-old symbol of recognition that you DID IT! Although there won’t be an after-party ‘til dawn, the possibilities are still available to make this night all yours and like no one else’s ever. I have seen some rather unique sights at graduations over the years, from bare feet to a streaker (honest, for real – though I certainly do not recommend it.) I have witnessed victory dances upon leaving the stage, rebel yells and war whoops, and even making a gift of one’s diploma to another person because, “I wouldn’t have made it without you!”

When your name is announced and you walk up and receive your diploma, for just that moment, the world belongs to you. Seize it! Things will go back to “normal” soon enough, so grab it while you can and make it something to remember. And when it’s over, make lots of noise! Most of us won’t be allowed to attend, but we may be able to hear you if you’re loud enough. When this night is done, you won’t be a high school kid any more. So God bless New You! Stay safe, stay well and live long. You are a hero.