Iowa’s high school Class of 2020 contains about 37,000 students, certainly none of whom could have predicted how this school year is wrapping up in the midst of a pandemic.
Professor Nancy Langguth, associate dean of the University of Iowa College of Education, says it’s heartwarming to see how graduating seniors are being recognized in their communities in light of social distancing requirements.
“I’ve just marveled at how people have rallied, whether it’s on Facebook sharing their own graduation pictures, or districts having parades with their students,” Langguth says. “I was over at Clear Creek Amana (High School) the other day and I noticed they had lovely, individual banners of all of their seniors posted along their sports complex.”
Had coronavirus not invaded our lives, Langguth says it’s likely graduation ceremonies for these students would have looked and sounded much like those held in 2010 or even in 2000, which makes this year’s class uniquely special. “These 2020 graduates are certainly going to have a memory that any of us that hear someone graduated in 2020, there’s a story there,” Langguth says. “We’re going to want to know, ‘How was that for you?’ So, they will have that.”
During a typical graduation, it might only take a matter of seconds for a student to make the walk as his or her name is called to collect a diploma, but those seconds represent a lifetime of achievement up to that point. Langguth says it’s important for the student — and for their loved ones — to have that moment of ritual to recognize all that’s been invested.
“Financially, I believe that it’s over $3 billion is invested in K-12 education in our state annually,” Langguth says. “We’ve invested in supporting their music events, their sporting events. We really are all stakeholders in them having this completion. When they walk across the stage, it’s like we’re seeing our investment realized and so we all miss that.”
A former public school teacher in Lenox, Langguth says it’s a delight to see colorful yard signs, posters in store windows, and even full-scale billboards congratulating the Class of 2020. “When you see images of that, you just share in the joy,” Langguth says. “Even though you don’t know that senior, you know the community is invested in their success and wishes them well and really shares in their accomplishment.”
Over Memorial Day weekend, members of the West Branch High School graduating class lined up in their cars outside the football stadium, then were called, one-by-one to walk across a stage that was built in the end zone to get their diplomas. Afterward, there was a parade through town to celebrate the rite of passage.