Graduates wait for the ceremony to begin on Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, May 21, 2020. Team Kirtland hosted a graduation ceremony for graduating seniors to honor their accomplishments amid COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ireland Summers)
Graduates wait for the ceremony to begin on Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, May 21. Team Kirtland hosted a graduation ceremony for graduating seniors to honor their accomplishments amid COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ireland Summers)

We have been grieving since March. We are grieving jobs and loved ones. We have lost vacation deposits and retirement savings. We have been without church meetings and sports games; we are grieving togetherness. Under the weight of so much uncertainty and loss, it might seem silly to mourn losing a graduation ceremony.

But you are taking your next step in life, and we want to celebrate you.

You, who powered through the strangest of circumstances to arrive here. One cold Friday in March, you were sent home from school, and you didn’t know you’d never return. You’d never say goodbye to your teachers; you’d never crowd around yearbooks in the hallway with your friends. Your spring break extended week by week until reality finally settled in: you were never going back to high school.

Mina Porter is a recent graduate from Summit High School in Orem. She graduated on May 1, and the school held a small ceremony for the graduates on May 13, where they were able to put on their cap and gown and receive their diploma.

In the middle of March, Porter was standing with friends in the school hallway, speculating about what it would be like for school to be cancelled. The next day, school was suspended for two weeks. Before the end of the two weeks, it was cancelled for the rest of the school year.

“I was angry because I like to going to school,” Porter said. “And I was sad, because I wouldn’t be able to spend the rest of my time with my friends at Summit.”

Like many students, Porter struggled with the lack of structure with remote learning.

“I procrastinated a lot,” Porter said. “I’d wait until the last day and then get all my work done. I still got it done, but I put more stress on myself.”

Porter had been looking forward to graduation since she arrived at Summit.

“Summit’s graduations are not like your typical graduation,” Porter said. “It’s more meaningful. That’s the thing that upset me the most, that I wouldn’t get the full Summit graduation experience.”

Though she didn’t get the graduation she’d been hoping for, Porter’s family made the day memorable.

“My family and friends did their absolute best to give me a full experience,” Porter said. “I ate dinner with friends, and I got gifts. I don’t regret graduating that way.”

Porter plans to attend Utah Valley University in the fall. With some colleges already announcing a move to online schooling in the fall, Porter is anxious about the possibility of not having in-person classes.

“College is already different,” Porter said. “You’re on your own. They aren’t bugging you constantly to get things turned in. And I don’t like online school. I don’t learn that way.”

Porter is hopeful that things will go back to normal soon.

“I’m just excited for the college experience,” Porter said. “But I’m worried even if we do end up going back to school, nothing’s ever really going to be the same.”

Thirty minutes north of Summit High School, a neighborhood in Syracuse is preparing to celebrate its group of graduates.

There are 3.7 million high school students graduating across America; in Syracuse, there are 650.

My brother, Justin, is one of these graduates. If there is a way to thrive in Zoom education, he has done it. He prepared for three AP exams; he did hours of homework for calculus and physics, and he logged on for study sessions and test reviews.

In August, Justin will start at Weber State University. Like most graduating seniors, he has no idea what his immediate future will look like. He doesn’t know if his classes will be online or if clubs will be able to meet face-to-face.

Normally a time of relief and excitement, this graduation only marks a blip in a season of uncertainty. Students preparing for college don’t know if they will even leave home. Some have sacrificed thousands of hours to earn scholarships and don’t know if their sports team will play, or their choir will sing. Anxiety about the future is thick in the air, sometimes so stifling it can feel hard to breathe.

But here, things are quiet. Families are gathered around driveways in the Bluff Neighborhood in Syracuse.

Soon, fifteen high school graduates will begin a slow parade around the neighborhood, driven in trucks decorated by loved ones.

My family is gathered around our driveway, holding dollar-store airhorns and balloons. Across the street, our neighbors are setting up lawn chairs and blankets. A family we’ve hardly spoken to gathers on their front porch, waving.

When the graduates make their way past my house, we will wave our banner and shout their names.

This may not be the graduation you wanted. But I hope you’ve been able to make the best of it.

So congratulations, class of 2020. No matter where you end up this fall, we are with you. We don’t know what’s going to happen next, but the future is yours.

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