Other irregular commencements
Previous classes have faced uncertain or interrupted commencements too
One of the funniest and on-point summaries of the first five months of the year was recently heard on the radio: “OK 2020, you’re done. Pack up and get out of town.” I am sure most of us would be willing to start a new year or reset this one. We cannot.
There has been much sympathizing with members of the class of 2020, whether high school or college, who have to face the end of an important part of their education without the traditional trappings and attendant rites of passage. We all can feel for the graduates. In fact, on a couple of occasions, I have seen graduates, in cap and gown, standing by the signs at campus entrances at Southern New Hampshire University and Colby-Sawyer College having their graduation pictures taken by parents or friends, and it is touching.
There has been a lot of creative thinking about alternatives. Concord’s interim superintendent of schools, Frank Bass, has announced an in-person ceremony for Concord High School in August. Some districts have plans to have commencement at drive-in movie theaters. Some plan online or Zoom commencements. Others hope to combine this year’s ceremonies with those for the class of 2021.
Of more concern for many high school seniors is what college will look like in the fall, and all colleges and universities are uncertain about how many deposits they will get, which ones will produce actual students, how opening will look and how much online instruction will be required.
Most colleges face practical problems of how to survive financially if the entering class does not show up, or cannot show up. Most have announced tentative plans to reopen with on-campus learning. SNHU has announced an innovative plan for incoming students with online instruction and no initial tuition charge.
All of this brings to mind other classes that faced uncertain or interrupted commencements and survived. For this writer, a member of the class of 1970 at the University of New Hampshire, it brings memories of that spring, when student strikes swept the nation after the invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, the killing of students at Kent State College in Ohio by the National Guard, and students attempted to, and in many cases did, shut down campus life.
In Durham, classes were canceled or made optional, exams were optional and many “teach-ins” replaced normal classes. Whether there would be a commencement ceremony was debated and, eventually, it took place in Snively Arena with some modifications, such as many wearing armbands symbolizing sympathy with the student strike, including commencement speaker Edmund Muskie, the Maine senator and potential presidential candidate.
This year, 50 years later, a committee of class members, under class president and Secretary of State William Gardner, has worked for several years to plan a 50-year reunion, only to have it postponed to next June, due to the pandemic. We shall survive this, too.
Many other classes have faced similar situations.
My parents’ UNH classes of 1942 and 1943 graduated in the face of the majority of the male students, as well as some of the women, going off to war immediately after graduation. Classes during the Great Depression faced uncertain job prospects, like many today.
For some, cancellation of observations is more poignant. For example, for the dwindling number of members of the college class of 1945. I have one friend in the Cornell class of 1945, the indomitable Maxine Morse — cancellation of her 75th reunion may mark the last chance the remaining members of her class can connect in person. This is sad for them, but they have survived so much and gained perspective that this is only a disappointment.
On the bright side, tedious commencement addresses will be avoided, disruptive throwing of beach balls or taped messages on mortar boards missed, and a host of young men will avoid the perspiration experienced in anticipating pinning a corsage on a date’s dress, if they do that anymore.
In all seriousness, for most of us, the memories of high school or college that matter are the people we met, grew up and matured with, the relationships which resulted and, of course, what we learned in school. For all those who feel natural disappointment in the canceled or changed circumstances of the 2020 end of school and events, the disappointment will diminish and the important memories survive.
Brad Cook is a Manchester attorney. The views expressed in this column are his own. He can be reached at email@example.com.