Pomp, Circumstance, and Some Words in Between for the Class of COVID-19

Tis the season when new graduates of all shapes and sizes will enter the world. Some will enter the workforce and start the task of paying off student loans, that are in some cases are way more money than what their incomes of their chosen fields will cover.

Others will continue adding to those student loans by going to graduate school, or culinary school, or any other thing with school in the title, in order to delay the clock on paying off those student loans.

For others, this is the time to graduate from high school and start the journey to college and the accumulation of those aforementioned student loans.

It is the time of year where students of all ages will be sporting graduation bling like this medal.
Photo R. Anderson

While the season of commencement occurs every year, at every level of education, graduation for the Class of 2020 will be unlike anything witnessed in modern times thanks to the COVID-19 virus.

While graduations of olden times, say like last year, included such things as large gatherings of family and friends to celebrate what should be one of the happiest days in a graduate’s life, many high school and college seniors were robbed of that face to face celebration. In many cases, the graduating seniors were also robbed of the last two months of in person school, and all of the activities that go along with that, as school were forced to transition to remote learning.

As part of the move to remote activities, schools have gotten creative in how they honor their graduates. In Texas, one principal drove to the house of each of the graduating seniors to deliver the diploma directly to the graduate. Some NASCAR tracks even opened up to allow socially distanced graduation ceremonies with graduates spaced six feet apart on the track.

Texas Motor Speedway, shown here back when the world was open, hosted socially distanced high school graduations for the class of 2020 during the time of COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

Other schools went forward with their usual graduation plans, albeit with fewer people allowed in the audience to witness the pomp and circumstance, and to hear the commencement address.

Several television networks even banded together and aired a celebrity filled graduation ceremony to help usher the graduating Class of 2020 into their new socially distanced, unsure what the future holds, massive unemployment, and massive student debt lives.

Although it is the season for commencement addresses, for some reason no one asked me to give a speech to any graduating classes this year. Of course, truth be told, that has been the case for many years, but that is certainly not for lack of trying on my part. I guess schools thought that Tom Hanks, and Barrack Obama were better choices. While I cannot argue with that, I did hold out hope that this would be the year that I got the call.

Ever since my high school graduation I have thought that it would be nice to help send a graduating class off into uncharted waters armed with my words of wisdom and encouragement.

Commencement speakers hold a special place in the memories of graduates and I have wanted to add my name to that fraternity of memorable speakers.

My high school and college graduation ceremonies were both held in a smaller building behind the one pictured. I did take pictures with my family after both ceremonies outside on what would now be considered center court of the new arena.
Photo R. Anderson

Why I remember my commencement speaker in college just like it was yesterday. I mean, I remember what he looked like, and some of what he said. I am sure if I dug up my commencement program I could even find his name.

So, I wanted to be that person that students look back on with fond memories of inspirational words.

During my career working at a college I attended many graduations. I served as the official photographer for several of them. I even attended graduations inside a state prison which I must say is a rather interesting occurrence, as one might expect. Still despite my waiting in the bullpen to step up if the speaker had to cancel for illness, or inability to fit into their cap and gown, my number was never called.

In the event that my number was called, I envision a typical conversation of people reflecting on those inspirational words going something like this.

Chad: Boy, that was such a good speech that old what’s his name gave at our graduation.

Tad: We had a speaker at our graduation?

Okay, so the commencement speaker is not remembered by everyone. I think part of that has to do with graduation caps cutting off blood flow to the brain. I have no proof of this, but it is a pretty logical explanation if you ask me.

Still, despite the short-term memories of graduates, I thought for sure that this would be the year that I would get the call to share my insights with graduating seniors. I mean I could zoom right in, give a little speech, and zoom right out. I wouldn’t even have to wear pants under my gown.

As a side note, to this day, not being able to wear shorts under my gown when I graduated both high school and college in Florida still doesn’t make any sense. I mean gowns are not made out of the most breathable fabrics and some of those speakers can just go on and on. But I digress, now, where was I?

Oh yes, despite my willingness to throw a gown on over my shorts, alas the phone did not ring, and I was left with a speech and no audience to hear it.

Across the world, the Class of 2020 has seen many traditional in person milestones like a large graduation ceremony on the 50-yard line of a football stadium transformed into remote experiences thanks to COVID-19.
Graphic R. Anderson

No worries though, I will just share a version of my remarks dedicated for pomp and circumstance here. Of course, this is the abridged non honorary degree conferring version. I need to leave something out just in case I get called to the big time. Oh, and please excuse the parenthetical notes in my rough draft.

So, without further ado here goes:

Students you are to be commended for your efforts in reaching this momentous occasion of (high school, college, preschool, clown school) graduation.

Looking out at all of your caps and gowns I am reminded how silly people look in caps and gowns. I mean seriously who came up with the idea of dressing up like Supreme Court justices as a way to commemorate graduation? But, at least unlike Supreme Court Justices, you only have to wear those things once.

This day marks the end of one chapter of your life and the beginning of another chapter. Albeit a scary journey into the unknown. But I am sure you will figure it out, if not we have another graduating class coming next year. (wait for laughter from audience, and delete this from future speeches if no one laughs)

Now is the time of your lives where you can have experiences that will last a lifetime. (Or at least last until the big asteroid comes and destroys us. Mental note, whatever you do, do not mention the asteroid. These graduates have been through enough without putting the fear of Bruce Willis in an orange jumpsuit into them. Mental note part two, did you see that Bruce Willis still fits in his jumpsuit from that movie that foretold of Armageddon, what was that movie called again?)

Don’t be afraid to step out on limbs occasionally and try new things. While the limbs will sometimes break, they will usually just bend.
Photo R. Anderson

Don’t be afraid to step out on limbs occasionally and try new things. While the limbs will sometimes break, they will usually just bend. (Except if the limbs are hit by an asteroid, I mean that sucker is just going to destroy everything in its path, just ask the dinosaurs. Oh, that’s right, the dinosaurs are gone because of a giant asteroid so they aren’t around to ask. Dude, seriously, enough about asteroids, focus.)

Never say, “I’ll never go to Graduate School, so it doesn’t matter what my GPA is.” Graduate School shows up when you least expect it, and yes, they do care about grade point average.

So, hats off to the graduating class of (insert year and school name).

In conclusion remember that life is a highway, and you want to ride it all night long. No wait, those are the lyrics to a really bad song.

Let me try again. Life is like a box of chocolates…no that isn’t quite right either. (I bet they would have laughed if Tom Hanks had said that line.)

In closing, I definitely do not envy the Class of 2020, and the new world that you are facing. Of course, it is out of this very adversity that great things can come. So, try new things, and get creative. Remember that your social distancing, and wearing of masks, saves your life, and the life of those around you. Take time to take care of yourselves, and each other. And no matter how dark the skies appear, remember that this will pass. (Unless the skies are darkened because a giant asteroid is heading our way.)

Think of it as your chance to usher in an enlightened Coronaissance. Whatever you do, do not think of those student loan payments that will start rolling in six months from now and blindside you like an asteroid hurtling down from the heavens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check in on my sourdough starter. I named him Doughy.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Editor’s note: No actual asteroids hurtling towards earth were observed during the writing of this column.

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