May 12 was almost the perfect spring day, unless you went outside without a jacket on. Things were coming into bloom, the sky was a quality of blue that only the month of May can seem to manage, and that same sky was dotted with amazing white billowy clouds just drifting across the northern Michigan sky.
If one were to stop and look at it they might not notice that the state as well as the rest of the world, were in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic. You could look at that sky, and if you tried hard enough, you could try to forget – albeit temporarily – all the unfortunate things that were taking place in our communities and all over the world.
The amazing sky worked to make the statistics, the constant pandemic news, the measures to keep the public from getting sick and the sacrifices that many are undergoing to fight the good fight, melt away for a time.
So as I was driving through Oscoda on May 12, forgetting about the pandemic for just a few minutes, it was the vibrant display on Furtaw Field that was erected that body slammed be back to reality and at the same time gave me hope for the future.
The display, like many that are going up across communities across the state, was vibrantly colored placards of the Oscoda High School Graduating Class of 2020. The class of more than 50 seniors is on display at the field, part of the work of Oscoda Area Schools officials in their efforts to make this year’s graduation special for the class.
The signs say “Congratulations Class of 2020” and feature each student’s senior photo and their name in big, bold and blue font. The students are smiling as these photographs were not taken recently. They are senior photos. The students have no idea that their school year is going to be cut short.
As I drove past and looked at the faces lining US-23 I thought about the students and my senior year. I thought that these students had no idea that they wouldn’t be able to participate in a normal graduation ceremony when the time came. They were thinking about starting summer jobs after graduation, they were thinking about having parties in the summer with friends and family to celebrate college and their achievement.
Some would be going to college, some to the military and some would be starting their careers locally or in different parts of the state. I am sure they all had a thought that as high school graduates they would have a normal transition into the rest of their lives in June and July, but the future is uncertain, the crystal ball is cloudy and most of the people in the world, including the people in charge, has no idea what is going on.
I remember my first summer job before college after graduating from Oscoda High School in 2001. I can’t believe it is going to be almost 20 years since that time. It works to make you feel old, that is for sure. The job was working for the Wurtsmith Development Commission mowing lawns and doing maintenance on the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. We got up early and a lot of times spent eight hours on mowers just listening to classic rock, getting a suntan and not worrying about anything in the time before college started.
I have to admit that time in my life, and I am sure the same time in a lot of people’s lives, you don’t have a care in the world. The future isn’t so important and the “now” is what you live for. To be sure, later as you get more responsibilities, get a profession and a more complicated life, you can look back at high school and think that it was a simple and naive time. Even college one could look at those times the same way.
Those post high school and college years, for me, served as a catharsis in my life. It was a time where one could take the had work over the previous 13 years of school, during a time when you think that you’re going to be sitting at a desk in high school building forever, and get some closure.
One of the key features of the closure is the literal pomp and circumstance that students can enjoy during a graduation ceremony and related activities. Our students this year did not get that. They do not get to have that sigh of relief when they are handed a diploma, not like every preceding class got to have.
I think our youth have gotten the short end of the stick with the pandemic, especially our graduating classes. If you know a grad this year, give them a good “attaboy” or “attagirl” because they earned a great achievement this year, which was pulled out from under them like a rug. Oscoda School’s gesture to the seniors is a small one, but I feel it goes a long way to remind the community of what those kids gave up this year. Lets hope the class of 2021, and beyond, will never have to deal with this in the future. And lets hope the class of 2020 has a great future.