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A year for the history books

The class of 2020, and their teachers, met the 'new normal' with an outpouring of creativity, imagination

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MIAMI | Prospects for the class of 2020 looked bleak in mid-March, when in-person classes were canceled. As the coronavirus quarantine stretched past April and into May, the bleakness solidified: no prom, no class trips, no walk across the stage in cap and gown to receive a diploma.

The world was living through unprecedented times, and students and teachers were forced to adapt practically overnight: teaching and learning through Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms; getting together with friends only through screens.

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The teenagers adapted better to the new mode of learning. Parents with young children, and their teachers, faced a tougher time getting the youngsters to stay on task and learn their lessons without the teachers' personal presence.

Nothing in collective memory had prepared anyone for such a moment. The class of 2020 — both eighth-graders in parochial schools and seniors in high schools — would go down in history.

And indeed they did. But not for what they missed. The pandemic unleashed a wave of creativity in archdiocesan teachers and administrators, a viral display of imagination and affection that transcended the physical distancing — and ironically, made graduation even more memorable for the class of 2020.

Not for them a long, formal ceremony with keynote speakers whose names and words would be forgotten in a week. Not for them just one ceremony, in fact, but a series of noisy, colorful celebrations.

Nearly all the schools held drive-by events — the "new normal" equivalent of a party — where parents and students, their cars festooned with balloons, posters and banners, passed through a phalanx of mask-wearing teachers handing out gifts.

Some teachers and administrators drove to their students' homes to drop off lawn signs extolling the class of 2020, plus the traditional graduation regalia, yearbooks and other memorabilia.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters who administer Our Lady of Lourdes Academy announced the class valedictorian and salutatorian live on Instagram and Facebook, dropping by the students' homes to surprise them with the news. (https://www.instagram.com/p/B_p6GX6HaWm/). They repeated the process to announce the winners of other academic and athletic awards.

Immaculata-La Salle High School honored its graduates with a new mural facing the athletic field (https://www.facebook.com/ILSroyals/videos/2735171566710648/).Msgr. Edward Pace High School staged a drive-by graduation. Archbishop Coleman Carroll High held its ceremony outdoors, with students masked and appropriately distanced and parents watching from their cars.

P.E. teachers turned into media stars as they taught their classes via Zoom, using objects around the house as exercise equipment.

The students, too, overcame the boredom of lockdown by getting creative: making masks and the ties that bind them, making greeting cards for health care workers, and even making a music video.

Keeping up with the explosions of joy and creativity has not been easy. The Florida Catholic tried to cover as much as it could and include it in this June 2020 graduation edition.

It's not clear yet whether in-person classes will resume in September. What is certain is that the class of 2020 experienced a year to remember. They made history while living through unprecedented times.

May the lessons of the last three months prepare them to confront whatever challenges the future puts in their way. And may they continue making history by putting their myriad talents to work on creating another "new normal" — of unity, justice, solidarity and peace.

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