I can’t imagine what it’s like being a Staples High School senior today.
This should have been such a memorable spring.
There should have been a prom, the High Honors and Scholar-Athlete dinners, Awards Night.
After 12 1/2 years of school there should have been the joy of winding down. There should have been days of congratulations from teachers on college acceptances, nights hanging with friends, weekends at the beach, on boats and by pools.
After 4 weeks of internships in real workplaces that help you feel confident for whatever lies ahead, you should have come together one final time as a class. You should have enjoyed a warm, loving baccalaureate ceremony in the auditorium, a hot but happy graduation in the fieldhouse, and an endless round of parties all over town.
Instead — randomly, instantly, through absolutely no fault of your own — you lost all that.
Some athletes lost a chance to play for a state championship; others lost a chance to play at all. Actors and tech crews lost an opportunity to present their final show, just hours before the opening curtain. Musicians lost the chance to shine, first in the auditorium, then in the Levitt Pavilion before a jam-packed townwide audience. The state champion “We the People” team lost the reward — and excitement — of traveling to Washington, DC for the national competition.
All of that is gone. In its place, you’ve spent nearly 3 months in a world no one recognizes. Everywhere you felt at home — Staples, athletic fields, Wakeman Town Farm, the library, restaurants, Earthplace, Starbucks — was shut.
The last place you wanted to be in your final months as a senior — home — was where you spent nearly all your time. Your teachers and classmates were reduced to boxes on a computer screen. Your friends became mere FaceTime faces.
You — the seniors of Staples High School — are collateral damage, in a pandemic you played no part in creating, but cannot escape.
And you never will. For the rest of your lives, the Class of 2020 will be known as “The COVID Class.”
You’ve got your caps and gowns — you picked them up recently alone, wearing masks and at a proper social distance. A few days from now, you’ll graduate — coronavirus-style. Perhaps you’ll toss your mortarboard in the air, as your parents and siblings watch. It will be one final, poignant reminder of all that you’ve lost.
But my hat is off to you.
I don’t know how I would have reacted, if a crisis like this struck when I was at Staples. But I am sure I would not have shown the maturity, the grace, the compassion and the class that the Class of 2020 has shown.
When school closed on March 11 — and when the initial 2-week shutdown stretched to mid-April, then all the way through June — I feared what was to come.
I wondered how bitter the seniors would be. I braced for complaints large and small, justified and not. I prepared myself for the worst.
My bad. I’ve known you seniors for 4 years. I should have expected more.
You’ve been asked to make big sacrifices. You’re not in a high risk group for this disease, but you understand that staying safe is not just about you — it’s about your parents, grandparents, and those with health concerns you may or may not know about. You get it. Without complaint, you’ve made those sacrifices.
With the usual arts, sports and extra-curriculars gone, you turned to new activities. You made masks, ran errands for those who could not venture out, and donated food to the hungry. You collected supplies for the needy, raised funds for worthy causes, and made meals for frontline workers.
If you’re on WWPT, you kept your radio station going. If you’re in Staples Players, you put on a virtual show. If you’re in the “We the People” class, you redoubled your efforts (and finished 5th in the nation).
You not only adapted to “distance learning,” you helped your teachers help others. Then you warmed those teachers’ hearts, by thanking them often for all they did.
Forced to spend time with your siblings, you became role models — true big brothers and sisters — even more than you’d been before. You helped your parents too. Who knew you could cook, garden and paint houses so well?
With unexpected time on your hands, you filled it in ways that surprised even yourselves. You learned to play guitar, speak a new language, sew. You read actual books.
I’ve always been a supporter of Westport’s teenagers. I’ve seen far more of your good sides than bad. Over the years, I’ve tried to highlight your accomplishments. I don’t lack for stories.
For the past 3 months though, you — the senior class — have not acted like teenagers. You’ve acted like mature, responsible Westporters — great, wonderful, contributing members of our community. That why it’s especially sad we cannot give you the graduation ceremony you deserve.
In fact, ever since the pandemic began you have given us something.
You’ve given us hope.
The world is a mess right now. Our country is even messier. We need you — the Class of 2020 — desperately.
As you move into an uncertain future, please keep doing what you’ve already done so well. Please look outside yourselves. Please lend a hand to anyone — next door, in your neighborhood, anywhere in Westport or Connecticut or the country or planet — who needs it. Please use your brains and talents and hearts to clean up the mess we’ve given you.
The Class of 2020 — the COVID Class — has already made history. Now you’ve got the rest of your lives to rewrite it.