Donna Grethen / Op-Art
Donna Grethen / Op-Art

Congratulations, 2021 graduates! What a ride.

If adversity makes people stronger, this year’s graduating class will surely move mountains. So, too, the parents, teachers, mentors and others who helped thousands of high school seniors cross the finish line.

Getting here meant tapping into reserves of strength and ingenuity that few realized they even had.

They tackled new technologies and school routines while battling pandemic-related uncertainty, isolated from beloved extended family members and socially distanced from friends.

They found safe and creative ways to honor treasured senior-year traditions. Some of those innovations (like car parades) may be carried forward by younger classes. Others (like virtual homecomings), not so much.

They weathered personal storms that varied from student to student, but no one had it easy. Parents lost jobs. Others had to brave the virus to go to jobs to keep food on the table. Still others crowded in homes filled to bursting with family members huddled over laptops in makeshift workspaces — more family time than most teens would wish for in their senior year.

While grown-ups fought and fretted over when and how to return them to classrooms, many of this year’s seniors kept logging in, showing up and getting homework done. Many did so while grieving lost loved ones, and while feeling angry, scared and isolated. The academic challenges of remote or hybrid learning only amplified by the emotional demands of this extraordinary year.

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Sadly, some were not so lucky, nor able to negotiate online learning. For those whose credits fell short and students in other grades, more exceptional effort will be required to catch them up.

Already, some of the memories are softening. It’s a blessing that many of past year’s challenges look smaller in the rearview mirror.

But as graduation ceremonies roll out across the region — literally, in drive-in ceremonies, or in the memories of grads attending socially-distanced variations on traditional pomp and circumstance — don’t forget the hard work, persistence, help and sheer determination that brought the 2021 class to this moment. Graduation is always an emotional milestone, but this year, the victory was hard earned.