Class of 2020's graduation won't soon be forgotten

I don't remember much about my high school or college graduation - and neither does former President Barack Obama.

He said as much in his Saturday night speech during the "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" program, which aired on many networks.

There are some advantages to not attending a ceremony, he noted. First, there are no speakers who drone on too long - as he said he can do at times.

"Also, not that many people look great in those caps, especially if you have big ears like me," he joked.

Those long gowns don't breathe very well, either, if you're stuck in a college gym on a sweltering day due to the threat of rain. I know. I speak from experience.

But my guess is high school seniors would be willing to put up with all of that if they could have a normal graduation this year.

Instead, this commencement will be like no other, from the drive-through diploma pick up on Monday and Tuesday of this week to the virtual ceremony that airs tonight at 7.

As one very clever NBC reporter put it, "The pomp is overshadowed by the circumstance."

That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of ways to celebrate. We've written this week about the efforts of educators and parents at Hinsdale Central to make graduation special for the Class of 2020. We've also featured some of the individual students in articles and run a list of all graduates from Central, Benet, Nazareth and Fenwick on the double truck in the center of the paper.

But no Zoom gathering or congratulatory message from a Cameo celebrity is the same as walking across the stage to receive a diploma with proud family and friends watching. Especially when you've already missed prom and a host of other events that mark the end of high school.

"And as much as I'm sure you love your parents, I'll bet that being stuck at home with them and playing board games or watching 'Tiger King' on TV is not exactly how you envisioned the last few months of your senior year," Obama said.

The pandemic means members of the Class of 2020 will have to grow up faster than some generations, he observed. But it also has prompted some important realizations, shining a spotlight on systems that need to be fixed and reminding us of the things that are truly important in life.

Obama offered graduates three pieces of advice: Don't be afraid, do what you think is right and build a community.

Excellent counsel.

I'd like to add one more: Take it one day at a time.

We all have questions right now about what will happen this summer and fall. It's so difficult to stay in the present - even for adults who have been practicing this skill. If you are 18 years old and on the verge of starting life's next chapter, I can't imagine how hard it is to stop your thoughts from getting too far out in the future. But the present is the only place where you can experience joy.

So, today, be fully present to celebrate all the wonderful things you've accomplished in the past four years. You are extraordinary young men and women, scholars and athletes, musicians and actors, leaders and philanthropists. You will, as the former president noted, continue to make us proud. And you will have a lifetime of accomplishments to celebrate.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean