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Grads defined by resiliency

Twenty years from now, social scientists will check in on the Class of 2021 to see how the COVID-19 era graduates are faring with their lives and livelihoods.

Though nobody wants to endure the types of struggles that qualify them to be the basis of a case study, that is a distinction the graduates of 2021 will have to bear. Will researchers find the pandemic negatively impacted careers and relationships, or that it produced a more technologically savvy group of adults that went on to thrive in a global economy?

Maui High Principal Jamie Yap says while island students missed out on many of the high school experiences that help shape maturity and decision-making, he is not counting them out.

“We’re going to have to look at these kids five years from now, 10 years from now, and see how they were impacted,” Yap said. “We don’t talk about what the kids learned during the pandemic. There is always a flip side.”

He says working remotely and figuring out how to self-motivate could reap unanticipated benefits.

“When you compete globally you have to be able to use technology,” he said. “We’ve got to learn from all this.”

During the commencement ceremonies we attended this year, graduates seemed more reserved and focused. They were far less likely to leap off stages with their diplomas or to scream to the crowd at the top of their lungs. It’s impossible to say if that was due to their greater levels of self-awareness or because of the pared-down nature of the graduations.

Rather than speculate cause and effect, let’s give the Class of 2021 its due. Perhaps not since World War II, or maybe the tumultuous Vietnam War era, have high school and college seniors had to deal with such disruptions and uncertainty.

While this year’s graduates don’t need to worry about being drafted or seeing classmates sent off to fight and possibly die on distant battlefields, they have had their mettle tested in other ways. Their busy, hypersocial world screeched to a standstill in what felt like a heartbeat. Suddenly, schools were closed and all extracurricular activities canceled.

Plugs got pulled on social lives. Some kids had to take jobs to help their families get by. Despite all their hopes and pleas to compete, senior athletes saw their final year of competition wiped away.

The Class of 2021 was forced to learn tough lessons about life, about how things don’t always go the way you want. The key is not letting your setbacks define you.

Twenty years from now, we expect the Class of 2021 to be acknowledged for its resilience. If any group has had to learn to persevere, to be comfortable in its own skin, this is one.

Congratulations graduates and good luck.

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