I have thought a lot lately of the Class of 2021.
As we slowly emerge from this pandemic and return to whatever “normal” is, I think of all the lost experiences – experiences my three grown children recall fondly as the highlights of growing up on our little island. Yes, the Class of 2021 survived the pandemic. But what was lost?
I realize asking about lost experiences is a privileged thing to do. So many students all over the United States lost more than rites of passage in the last year. They lost friends and family. They lost their academic dreams, as many of them had to put off college to support their families financially. Some students were left with long-haul COVID or even died from the disease. Students lost a sense of normalcy in their days. And research shows us many kids were challenged — even here on Vashon — even getting online, leading to greater learning loss.
But here’s the thing about hard times. While we all feel them differently — and some more than others — we all feel them somehow. Even knowing this disease hurts all too frequently those who are often left out in society, I cannot help thinking of our small community and some of the rites of passage that our graduates missed.
For example, our three kids all adored Camp Waskowitz when they were growing up — that wonderful opportunity for kids to go off and learn about the environment, as well as bond with others in fifth grade. That didn’t happen.
Two of our kids loved sports. In fact, the highlight of our son’s Vashon experience was playing on the high school soccer team that became state champs two years ago. It feels like a lifetime since we attended those games and watched the boys hoist their trophy. No big Friday Night Lights in the fall. No crowded gyms for basketball. Sports happened this year, but they were all rearranged and had short seasons.
Our daughter was involved in the high school newspaper. One of her favorite experiences was going off to conferences in New York and Los Angeles with others from the newspaper. While the fundraising was sometimes challenging (hello, car washes!), she and I shared these amazing experiences together as I chaperoned and watched her become a leader as the newspaper editor.
Then I think of theater. Our oldest lived for theater and music, and particularly the high school musical production in the spring. Recently, when I talked to soon-to-retire Stephen Floyd, he said he taught so many students over the years who got out of bed and made it to school every day because of theater. How did those kids do this year?
Of course, these cherished traditions are not all that matters. It’s also just the opportunity to be a kid, to be with friends, to hang out. Beyond creating the challenge of online education, COVID-19 increased stress and depression as social networks and sources of joy collapsed. In fact, a Stanford study recently found an increase in feelings of sadness and even suicide among adolescents with one-third of students saying they are unable to cope with stress in their lives right now.
In fact, the mental health impacts of COVID-19 are so widespread, it is now called a “pandemic within a pandemic.”
We cannot forget the disproportionate harm of this pandemic. Kids in BIPOC communities. Those living in homelessness. Those in foster care. And LGBTQ kids — on Vashon and beyond, have felt a huge impact during this crisis, as many of the usual support systems have been affected or withdrawn.
Many of our youth on Vashon were deeply fortunate, compared with the impact COVID-19 has had on many other students. And, I know COVID is not a source of sadness for some people, even kids. I admire how they have successfully viewed the pandemic as a time of feeling more peace. There is less commuting time, fewer hours rushing around to overloaded lives. The pandemic has created, for many, a reset in values. I get that.
But then I think of my daughter’s joy when she acted in a show or my son’s excitement when the boys won their soccer trophy. What of those experiences? What memories will the Class of 2021 have?
Of course, we all know adversity can be helpful to kids. As C.S. Lewis said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
I think of the Class of 2021 and know your lives ahead will be forged from this extraordinary experience. I hope society remembers that and gives you the extra support and assistance you will so richly deserve.
— Lauri Hennessey is the mother of three adults who attended Vashon schools and a long-time contributor to The Beachcomber. She is the CEO of League of Education Voters, a statewide education advocacy organization.