PREST: A message for the unique graduating Class of 2020

Dearest Members of the Class of 2020,

Congratulations, you’ve made it! And by “it,” I mean a TikTok video of your history teacher’s epic quest to figure out how to use Zoom.

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When most of you started your high school careers back in 2015, the world was a very different place. Game of Thrones was a smash hit that no one could ever screw up. Prince Harry was allied with England, and England was allied with Europe.

Mad Max was a fictional movie, not a literal depiction of a trip to the grocery store to buy toilet paper. Concerts were legal, marijuana was not. There were only 12 movies in the Avengers series. Kobe Bryant was alive, and fascism was dead.

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Gowns await their physical distancing students at the site of the North Vancouver School District’s virtual grad ceremonies in early June 2020. photo NVSD

Back in 2015, The Weeknd had a smash hit with “Can’t Feel My Face.” Now? LOL, what even is “a weekend?”

Five years ago, you would never be murdered by a hornet, and no one, and I mean no one, was encouraging you to treat a killer virus by drinking bleach.

What. The Fork. Happened.

These have been tumultuous times for all of us, particularly the last few months with the COVID-19 crisis. Among all the uncertainty and upheaval, you grads have quietly been deprived of a rite of passage that for decades most adults across North America have enjoyed at the conclusion of high school.

No prom. No big parties. No all-grad boat cruise. No day devoted to celebrating you and your cohorts and all your wonderful achievements. It’s a bummer.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you didn’t miss anything, that proms are overrated money traps and grad ceremonies are awkward sweltering affairs in packed gymnasiums where you have to listen to the class president tell one too many “jokes” about all the lifelong friendships forged on “those trips to Dairy Queen with the crew.”

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West Vancouver Secondary grads Finn Causen, Gia DaRosa and Macy Meldrum try on their caps and gowns. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

There’s no doubt that for a lot of people, prom sucked. Who wants to party with 200 other people who range from “best friends” to “vague acquaintances” to “mortal enemies” to “hey, didn’t that guy move to Alaska to live with his dad after setting the chem lab on fire?”

For others, grad was surely the perfect end to an enchanted sojourn through secondary school. Cap tossing, a dance with the prom king, a midnight toast, and day-after milkshakes at the local diner. Those were, The Best Days Of Our Lives!

For most people, grad ceremonies likely fell somewhere in the middle of those extremes. My “safe grad” party was held, and I am not making this up, in a barn. Small town Alberta, eh? My recollections are hazy (because of my, ahem, age), but I believe before the dance started they took the pigs out of the barn. Wanted to keep it fancy.

About the only concrete memory I have of that night is actually finally arriving back home early in the morning and peeling my fancy farm party clothes off at the back door. Who knew prom would involve so much mud? At least, I think it was mud.

Sadly, you folks won’t get to find out where you landed on the how-cool-was-prom scale. And that sucks.

But – and of course, you knew there was a “but” coming – I would argue that we are in the perfect time with these COVID-19 restrictions slowly loosening for a truly meaningful grad celebration. Early on in the pandemic, when our bubbles were tiny, it was just you and your household. Family is fine, right, but not all the time.

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Carson Graham grad Logan Weidner, with man's best friend. photo Weidner family

But for many people here in B.C., the province’s strong pandemic response has helped flatten the curve and allowed you to hopefully expand your social bubble a little bit. And with that safe expansion of your little bubble, I do hope that you have been able to see those people who mean the most to you.

Tired: spending $400 to rent a limo to take you and your friends to prom.

Wired: spending $400 to rent scooters to take you and your friends to every artisanal ice cream shop in the Metro Vancouver region!

Those people in your bubble – your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, your best friends – they are all so proud of you, and are surely thrilled to be able to celebrate with you as you pass this major milestone. Well, OK, maybe not your siblings. The bubble would be a lot more peaceful if they’d just STOP TOUCHING YOUR PHONE!

But really, the people in your bubble have floated with you all of your life, and they are the ones who will watch with pride as you catch the breeze and drift off into the new adventures of adulthood over the next months and years. Sure, sometimes that bubble can get messy, drip some stinging soap in your eyes, or even pop. But as you go on in life, you will discover just how strong those links can be, even if they seem nothing more than a thin film of water. And that, my friends, is just about all I can wring out of this bubble metaphor.

Sutherland
Kerry (left), Adam, Brian and Brandon of Sutherland Secondary keep their distance while celebrating grad together outside the North Vancouver School District's Education Services Centre. photo NVSD

You should be celebrated though! We marvel at your academic achievements, musical and stage performances, sporting prowess and so many other triumphs. We’ve watched over the past few years as you’ve shown your strength and made your voices heard. You’ve demanded gender-neutral bathrooms so all your peers feel comfortable. You’ve organized and marched in massive numbers to call for action on climate change. And just in recent days, you’ve let it be known that your generation will not stand for racism.

Your passion and compassion give me great hope for our future.

I’ll end with one more thing about this strangest of grad years: you should be very proud of the part you played in this pandemic response. I’m sure it has been hard on you, but from what I’ve seen, young people have been remarkably dedicated in following provincial health guidelines and doing whatever is needed to stop the spread of COVID-19. And many of you have done so while also being thrust into precarious positions as essential workers at our shops and grocery stores.

You’ve followed all the health orders despite growing mounds of evidence that you were not at as much risk as other age demographics. No one under 40 has died of COVID-19 in B.C., and no one under 20 has even been admitted to the ICU.

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Sentinel grad Connor Brown throws his cap during his virtual grad ceremony at West Vancouver's Kay Meek Centre. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

But you still followed the health guidelines, and you did it to protect your parents and grandparents, your co-workers and all the front-line workers battling this pandemic. And we know that you will continue to do so for as long as it takes to beat this virus.

It’s inspiring, and instructive. Together here in B.C. we’ve shown what a population can do if they all unite towards a common goal, a greater good. What’s more powerful than everyone sacrificing to literally save the lives of our most vulnerable?

Maybe you didn’t get a prom, but maybe you got something much more poignant. You have seen the good we can do when we all work together.

Take that knowledge, that power with you as you go out into the world. Stay united, stay strong, bring people together to achieve great things.

The Class of 2020 is a grad year truly like no other. Never forget that.

This article originally appeared in the Grad 2020 special feature section of the June 17 edition of the North Shore News. Andy Prest is sports editor for the North Shore News. He writes a humour/lifestyle column that runs biweekly. He graduated from high school the year The Big Lebowski was released, and Rolling Stone magazine’s top song of the year was Harvey Danger, with “Flagpole Sitta.”

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