Sometimes I feel a little bit like Lou Gehrig when I consider my career. When I think about what I do, I feel like Gehrig who is quoted as saying, “I am the “luckiest person in the world.” I often find great meaning in my work at this time of the year as I find myself inspired by the pomp and circumstance of graduation. But I find myself feeling different as graduation day of 2020 approaches. At this time of year, most educators experience emotions similar to those experienced by graduating seniors -- excitement, relief, and elation. But this year is unique.
I am privileged to work in a great school district, and I have had the honor of getting to know many of the seniors who will graduate from Bemidji Area Schools. Every one of them has abilities, aptitudes and talents that will help them succeed in life. We have done our best to prepare them for careers in the world. Some of them will acquire more knowledge and experience in colleges, tech schools, the military, or on the job. With the foundations they have built while here at ISD 31, I am confident they will all succeed.
Throughout my educational career, I have often been asked that age-old question students ask, “Why do we have to learn this?” My answer (“Someday you’ll find out and appreciate it”) often did not satisfy them. However, many graduates have contacted me, years later, to let me know that they had indeed learned to appreciate what they had learned in school, and that has been very gratifying for me.
However, this year I have heard a different question from our graduating seniors that I do not know how to answer: “Why is this happening to us?” I have no answer for that question, and I am sorry to say that we may never figure it out.
At commencement this Saturday morning, there will be no stage and no indoor venue, and that breaks my heart as I think about the loss of that experience for our graduating seniors. As I plan to mention in my very short commencement address to the class of 2020, this year’s seniors have lost so much of their senior year with its various ceremonies, banquets, concerts, sports events and other programs. Usually, these events are what comprise and contribute to the memories of a senior year. But not this year.
This year, the seniors have faced a test like no other graduating class before them -- a test of perseverance and character. They have passed this test with courage and grace, and that gives me hope for our collective future. Like other cohorts of people who have experienced adversity, the class of 2020 has been molded into young adults who will now be better prepared for their future. I am confident that, like those who made sacrifices during the Great Depression and both world wars (and who became the great generations who shaped the future of this country with their character and strength), our seniors will accomplish much in life and contribute greatly to our future.
This year’s seniors have lost so much, but they have also been drawn together, in a very powerful way, through adversity. They have a story worth telling, and someday they will tell their children and grandchildren that story -- part of their history -- about what it was like when they graduated from high school.
Finally, I have to agree with another baseball great, Yogi Berra who quipped, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But about one part of the future I am confident: the class of 2020 will look back on this year, with perfect 20-20 hindsight and realize that their experience this year molded them into people who can handle adversity and who can accomplish just about anything. Years from now, they can say that they experienced history. They are now poised to make their future.
I applaud the class of 2020!
Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.