Are graduating seniors heroes?

April 25, 2020


Some parents are calling the 2020 high school graduating class, “heroes” while others say, Hmmm . . . not so fast.” 

Yes, there’s justified sadness because prom was cancelled, leaving pretty dresses hanging unworn in the closet. And there’s both frustration and elation because final exams and term papers were dropped. And of course, the greatest let-down has been the cancelation of the graduation ceremony itself. But these annoyances, including the big boredom of having to stay home, don’t carry enough tragedy, risk or bravery to elevate these 18-year-olds to hero status.  

There were once high school seniors who accepted their diplomas knowing they would leave the next day for the Vietnam or Korean War — places where their older brothers were sent and never returned. Yet they boarded a bus the next day anyway, and their mothers were left with a final photo of them wearing their cap and gown. Those were high school heroes. 

Other graduates walked across the stage with cardboard stuffed in their shoes to patch worn holes, because in the middle of The Great Depression their parents didn’t have money to buy anything new. Although they worked long hours on the family farm, they still managed to memorize classic poetry and learned to solve higher math problems in their heads. They grew up to be The Greatest Generation and were true heroes. 

But don’t rule the class of 2020 out just yet. They may not be heroes now, but their opportunity for greatness is sizzling hot on the launchpad. 

The world is crying with outstretched arms like a baby longing for comfort in the middle of the night, and these seniors will have to decide what to do. Plans may change and goals may be adjusted to fit a new kind of world. Some will confidently develop innovations in medicine, science, politics and the military. Many will find new ways of doing business while others create better methods for soothing hungry stomachs or nourishing starving souls. 

There’s nothing more electrifying than a brainstorming session with teenagers. Their excitement and determination reflect the American dream that anything is possible. They’ve heard stories of previous generations who came to this country with nothing and worked their fingers to the bone to create a beautiful life. Maybe they’re starting to realize it’s their turn for greatness.

Although they look like they’ve just been sitting on the sofa watching TV these past few months, these seniors may just be daydreaming of ways to slay the problems of the world. 

This “sheltering at home” experience may inspire them to be a new kind of parent who someday prioritizes more unstructured play with their families. Marriages of the future may be stronger because relationships suddenly seem more valuable. They’ve quickly learned that human connection is precious. 

The graduates of 2020 aren’t heroes — just yet. But the frightening and puzzling situation they’ve been handed will provide opportunities for future greatness. We’ll be watching, cheering and praying for them to rise to the occasion.  They may have missed walking across a stage to be handed a diploma, but there’s a very real possibility that someday, we’ll hand them the well-deserved title of “true American hero.” 

This story first appeared on and in the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.

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