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Two years ago, these young people had much different expectations for their junior and senior years in high school

Resilient. That may be the best way to describe the class of 2021.

Two years ago, these young people had much different expectations for their junior and senior years in high school. COVID turned their world, all the world, upside down. Instead of grand assemblies, school plays, holiday concerts and homecoming games, it was a year of masks, remote learning, social distancing and cancelation after cancelation.

Yet, there were no rivers of tears flowing out of the high schools, no marches of kids down Main Street full of angst and pouting. That brand of complaining was left to the, uh, adults. Instead, it seemed kids showing up when they could, doing whatever they could, to wrest some sort of teen normalcy from the year.

Resilient indeed. Let's rewind the past 15 months: the back halves of your junior year, that wonderful time in the life when you're launched to the top rung of high school, was ripped away. Then last summer, your the last glorious summer as a high school student, was pinched by event cancelations, social distancing and staying home. 

That's just a fantastic time of life for so many; it's more than unfortunate that yours imploded on you. But something tells me your generation, and the class of 2021, will be just fine. You're a new breed of American, one those us middle-agers — those raised during the last part of the last century, pre-digital revolution — can't fully relate to, no matter if we convince ourselves that we can.

You were all born after 9-11, have never known a United States that wasn't at war with Afghanistan, never lived in an America where mass shootings were a surprise. You're an age group that has never experienced life before social media, were toddlers when Facebook pushed MySpace to the curb, and you grew up getting cell phones in middle school, posting photos on Instagram and making videos on TikTok.

You're smart collectively. A giant switch was flipped sometime in the 1990s that seemed to make every baby born thereafter become electronically savvy at a scary early age. You may not know who Muhammad Ali, Bill Clinton or Meryl Streep are, but you master PowerPoint in five minutes.

You don't seem to be as focused on getting driver's licenses and vehicles as much as your parents' generation was. You don't "cruise the gut" like kids once did. In fact, I don't see many kids out at dark much at all anymore. Likely it's because your parents -- who spent a lot of time cruising the gut or otherwise doing things you'd get severely grounded for -- would rather you not. But it's also likely you have better, safer, cheaper ways to spend your evenings. In your time, you don't have to be sitting in a car with your best friends ... you can just text him or her, send them your killer dance video you just knocked out in your backyard, and never leave their virtual side.

A sure sign of evolution, you're less judgmental than your parents' generation. Sure, there's plenty of harsh teasing, bullying and mean-girling still oozing its way down the school halls. Maybe always will be. But it seems every year there's a stronger sense of inclusiveness than before, and it grows. Sure, you've been raised in the era of being politically correct. But I think you see through the haze of faux PC to realize the truth behind the notion: every soul deserves to be treated with dignity. More of you live by that credo, take it for granted, than past generations.

You are coming of age at a very important time, a time when our country is politically and culturally divided like it hasn't been since the 1960s, if not the 1860s. No one knows, really, how or if we'll be united again. Those of us who've enjoyed our American freedom and relatively glorious life as United States citizens post World War II — a gift from the Greatest Generation, something for you grads to Google — have generally combined to mess things up right now. We've created a giant gulf between liberal and conservative, left and right, red and blue. Those of us on the other side of 40 have only widened the gulf, weakened our unity as a nation. Our future, the future of the nation, rest with your generation.

But you're up for it. You've proven to be tough, smart and, COVID be damned, resilient.

So, graduates, go out and apply your talents and passions to make the world a better place. Within that general frame may likely be the clearest path to a happy and contented life. Best of luck on your endeavors, and congratulations.


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