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Gresham-Barlow School District Superintendent Dr. A. Katrise Perera delivers a message of comfort and hope to the Class of 2020.

An open letter to the high school Class of 2020:

When the school year began back in September, I know you were looking forward to your senior year of high school and all the special memories you would make throughout the coming months. Now, that is all gone!

COURTESY PHOTO: GRESHAM-BARLOW SCHOOL DISTRICT - Dr. A. Katrise PereraIt all came to a halt on March 16, 2020, when Gov. Kate Brown officially closed schools across the state in response to COVID-19 and the global pandemic, which no one could have accurately predicted. Your senior year was not supposed to end like this. This was supposed to be your year! This was supposed to be your year to go out with a roar. You were supposed to attend senior prom. You were supposed to play in your final spring sports season, or to break that scoring barrier, or to compete for a winter or spring state title. You were supposed to be the captain of your team or the lead in a theater production. You were supposed to perform one last time at a concert. You were supposed to spend one last semester of high school with your friends. Most importantly, this was supposed to be your year to bring your K-12 journey to an end with all the ceremonious regalia at graduation.

Regardless of what you were supposed to do, this last semester of high school, you could not control the outbreak of an unprecedented pandemic.

A few months ago, no one had a good understanding of the impact this pandemic could have on our daily lives and how it would force us to reflect on the simple things we take for granted. We all take for granted the presence and authentic interaction with family, friends or teammates. We all take for granted the simple greeting of a handshake, a hug or holding the hand of a loved one. The most universal is that we all take for granted that we have an abundance of time to spend with family or friends, to learn something new, to complete a project, to volunteer time to help a neighbor or to restore relationships that have gone bad. In this moment of vulnerability, I encourage you to spend a few moments focused on the simple things that life has to offer.

My heart is heavy, knowing that you are grieving a sincere loss of your last semester in high school. The disappointment you and your family are feeling is unthinkable. You will never be able to replace the loss of all the things that you were supposed to do as high school seniors. Of course, it is not fair. Know this: In life, we cannot control everything, but we can control how we respond to it. Honestly, is this the way your high school journey ends with the memory of how a pandemic robbed you of your rite of passage as a senior? How do you go forward? What are you willing to do differently?

What I know about the Class of 2020, is that you are a creative bunch with lightning "QWERTY keyboard" thumb speed, an abundance of passion, empathy and a collective will to rise above any hardship or even a global pandemic.

All the things you were supposed to do this year may have come to an end from your perspective, but do not overlook the fact that this is the beginning of the rest of your life.

Your story doesn't end here because you have many chapters to write. There are many more intriguing pages of life experiences in front of you than there are behind you.

Once you come to a point where you can refocus, I challenge each of you to take that "proverbial pen" and rewrite the ending of your high school story.

• You can rewrite it and not let it end with the memory of grief, disappointment, sorrow, or hardship.

• You can rewrite it and not let it end with the memory of not being able to compete in a spring sport, concert, debate, or production.

• You can rewrite it and not let it end with the memory of not attending prom, going on a senior trip, or hanging out with your friends one last time before whatever is next.

• You can rewrite it and not let it end with the burden of being inundated with one depressing news story after another.

• You can rewrite it and not let it end with the memory of not being able to put on your graduation regalia, greet your teachers for one last time as a student, or wait for your name to be called, and proudly walk across the stage to receive your high school diploma.

Truthfully, and let me be clear, there is nothing I can say or do that will adequately make up for all the things you were supposed to do this year. I can tell you that just because school is closed doesn't mean that your principal nor your teachers have stopped caring and believing in you. They have not forgotten about your plight, nor your academic and social needs.

For the last few weeks, each one of them has put in some HEART-work to ensure that they are prepared to re-engage with each of you, prepare final assignments or projects, send information to college admissions officers, future employers and military recruiters, all the while navigating a new way of facilitating teaching and learning.

The opportunity to reinvent how we provide the essentials of education has been refreshing and worth the effort. I can guarantee that your class will be the last to start and finish each grade with the commonly structured face-to-face teaching and learning.

The education system, as you know it will not be the same. We are in unprecedented times and at a crossroads in public education.

We are beginning an era of reinvention, innovation, hope, resilience, and rewriting endings. You are a part of a moment that is historic and historical moments are not always happy endings. But, if history repeats itself, we are upon the dawn of a new awakening that will strengthen each of us. We will rise up stronger. You will look back on this time as a rebirth.

Class of 2020, I encourage you to find within you the will to stay focused on your goals, to embrace change and uncertainty, to nurture an infinite mindset, to value the uniqueness of your senior class experiences, to use this time to reflect and seek ways to rewrite the ending of this school year; then, undoubtedly, in the end, you will find yourself doing exactly what you were supposed to do in 2020.

Dr. A. Katrise Perera is superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District.

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