No commencement address — what a relief
COVID-19 has put an end to the commencement address!
The staff and teachers at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., had no easy task making the online graduation special. But in the end, it was one of the best ever. Instead of simply reading the names of each graduate, they honored each student by reading quotes from their teachers as the graduate’s picture and name were on the screen.
These quotes made you laugh and cry and learn something special about each graduate, adding a rich dimension to the ceremony. Family members who were watching from far and wide texted their amazement at how deeply moved they were by the ceremony, despite knowing only one of the graduates.
Because the readings took longer than a stroll across the stage and a handshake, cuts needed to be made elsewhere in the program. Thankfully, the valedictorian and salutatorian gave their speeches, which were excellent. However, the commencement address was eliminated. Hallelujah! Since the speaker is almost always unmemorable at best, the investment instead in the graduates paid off. Let’s hope that this is a tradition, born of the COVID-19 crisis, that will live on.
The writer is the mother of a 2020 Brewster Academy graduate.
Hats off to Hannah
On the Saturday in May when we should have been watching my daughter walk across the stage to receive her diploma, conferring a bachelor of science degree in veterinary technology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Mount Ida campus, we were sitting at our computers instead, and preparing to fete her with a surprise Zoom party.
Family from Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arizona, Texas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Israel waited for her to enter the virtual meeting room so that we could yell, “Surprise!” All of us were wearing hats, including a Red Sox cap, Mardi Gras hats, a hard hat, a cattleman’s Stetson, a Navy cap, a gardening hat, beach hats, and kerchiefs. Hannah showed up on time (and no pajamas). Each person, in turn, said, “My hat is off to Hannah,” doffed the cap, and offered accolades, congratulations, encouragement, and life advice. Her soon-to-be-90-year-old grandfather removed his Korean War Veteran cap and offered to teach her to drive.
While we were unable to hug her, and only a few got cake, Hannah definitely felt seen, celebrated, and loved. Family who would not have been able to attend the commencement in person were able to be an integral part of her achievement. And she had her moment on stage.
Praise those who found a way through this chaotic semester
Yes, 20 percent of Boston public school students have not shown up for online classes during at least the past month of the pandemic, and that’s a tragedy not of their making (“Remote classes leave students disconnected,” Page A1, May 24). But let us not forget to praise all the resilient Massachusetts students who are finishing this chaotic semester in good standing, despite coming from COVID-19 hot spots under conditions of terrible stress.
One set of students has juggled even more than their peers. More than 2,000 Massachusetts “early college” students have mastered two emergency online systems — high school and college — because they are taking college courses while still in high school. For example, one early-college student received her associate’s degree at Bunker Hill Community College’s virtual commencement on May 21, two weeks before she will graduate from Madison Park Vocational High School. Others, including English-language learners, have completed at least a year’s worth of college credit before getting their high school diplomas.
Early-college programs, which are relatively new to Massachusetts, allow students who are the least likely to attend college an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and a substantial number of transferable college credits at no cost to families. At JFF, I have worked to assist early-college programs across the country for 20 years. Today, JFF supports programs in Lowell, Lynn, Lawrence, Chelsea, Boston, Salem, and Framingham. We salute the grit, persistence, flexibility, and sheer creativity of these cities’ future college graduates.
The writer is a senior adviser with JFF, a national nonprofit focused on the workforce and education systems to promote economic advancement.