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YVONNE ABRAHAM

After a bizarre year, school’s out

Lenox Memorial High School graduates wait to process into graduation exercises on the soccer field at the school in Lenox, Mass. on Sunday June 13, 2021.
Lenox Memorial High School graduates wait to process into graduation exercises on the soccer field at the school in Lenox, Mass. on Sunday June 13, 2021.GILLIAN JONES — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE/Associated Press

Congratulations, kids!

You’ve finally made it to the end of this bizarre, terrifying, mystifying, exhausting school year!

You’ve been spectacular, and strong. We asked too much of you. Because we were trying to protect you from a virus we didn’t fully understand, you were cooped up for months, separated from your friends and almost every kind of ordinary fun. Those of you who ventured back into classrooms lived with constant caution, disinfection, constriction. All of you lived with relentless sameness, in shrunken worlds.

All of you, even the luckiest, were changed by it. But for some, of course, the losses were devastating. Some of you tried to learn in homes that were crowded, unconnected, unsafe. Your parents were felled by COVID, or lost their jobs, or had to risk their health to keep working. The pandemic severed you from the classrooms that were your lifelines, and your parents’.

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Some of you fell behind. Some of you fell apart. Some of you disappeared altogether, your teachers unable to track you down.

Many of you will be fine without the learning you missed this year, but some of you won’t. Millions of dollars and thousands of hours will be devoted to catching you up over the summer, but it will take more than a couple months’ instruction to make up what you’ve lost. Experts are saying some of your deficits — academic, mental, physical — could last for years.

Watching you try to learn taught us much about ourselves, or made what we already knew painfully undeniable: Seeing you struggle made it impossible to ignore the criminally vast disparities between schools; and the impossible living conditions for millions of you; and the racial and economic inequality that put your families’ lives and livelihoods at risk.

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We’re sorry we let you down in so many ways this year, and more importantly, the many years before it. If we’d done a better job, those of you whose families suffered the worst of this year’s hardships would have been spared.

We learned things, too, in this perilous time, things we must never forget: that it’s possible to feed hungry kids, target extra resources and learning time to those who need it, support their parents, honor all kinds of work — as long as we have the will. We watched with delight as remote learning gave some of you the comfort and flexibility you needed to thrive. And we saw the depth of your teachers’ devotion: They were patient and energetic even as their own families confronted the virus, and their toddlers ambled into their Zoom classrooms — a pleasure and a distraction.

Will these lessons drift away from us now that summer is upon us and your worlds are opening up? Probably. Look how quickly we forgot our reverence for the essential workers we called heroes at the start of the pandemic. See the governors in some states ripping extra unemployment benefits and food aid from their own citizens in the hopes of forcing them back into jobs that pay too little.

Maybe you’ll have longer memories than many of us do. Maybe, in addition to dealing with climate change and all of the other cataclysms we’ve dumped on your generation, you can make our schools more just too — so that future disasters, and benefits, fall more evenly upon our children.

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But all of that can wait, because summer is here!

It is glorious to see you coming back out into the world. You’ve had field days and proms and graduation ceremonies these last few weeks. You middle and high schoolers are getting the vaccines that will free you to gather safely at parties and gaming consoles and sleepovers. You’ll have movies and dinners out and first kisses and singing with friends in crowded cars. And maybe, in a few months, the youngest among you will also be vaccinated and free.

Every single one of you deserves the most gloriously indolent of vacations. You’ve been champs, and you have the right to let loose for a couple of months. We’ll try not to give you too hard a time about screen time or sleep or eating healthy.

You made it through an impossible year. You’ve earned all the ice cream.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.