One of the defining times of my high school education was my final semester. As a Grade 13 student, I was unclear on exactly what I wanted to do after high school.
The guidance councillor at my high school was no help, suggesting I go to university to â€œfigure it outâ€. Another teacher at the school knew I liked to write and suggested I try the co-op program at the school. That led to a semester working at my local weekly newspaper. Twenty-plus years later, and some gear-changes along the way, I still work in this field. Itâ€™s funny how an off-the-wall comment from someone can push you onto a path you never thought of.
I learned more working five months at that newspaper than I had in four-and-a-half years attending high school. The most important lesson I had learned was that words have power.
The schoolâ€™s graduating class had been fundraising for a new lectern as a gift back to the school. I asked where the lectern was being built. â€œNear Torontoâ€ was the answer.
Being a â€œkeenâ€ reporter, I asked why it wasnâ€™t being built by the schoolâ€™s wood-working program? â€œI wanted something built that would last,â€ was the principalâ€™s response.
Still â€œkeenâ€, I asked why not businesses in town, which included three kitchen cabinet manufacturers â€“ same answer. The principal was also head of the townâ€™s Chamber of Commerce so I knew I had a story.
The editor ran the story. Days later, he, the newspaper publisher, myself, and the co-op teacher were hauled into the principalâ€™s office once the newspaper had been printed and the article seen. There were no severe repercussions to me as what was reported was fact, as admitted to by the principal. Of course, a minor scandal erupted and there was some fall out â€“ not directed at me.
Resulting from this, a small group of us students boycotted our graduation in protest of said lectern. Just four of us, no one else joined. The second most important lesson I learned is just because you are protesting what you believe is right, doesnâ€™t mean people will notice.
In the midst of this was â€œnormalâ€ school life, which included prom. Being somewhat socially-awkward and not wanting to endure a live-action version of the worst parts of a John Hughes movie, my friends and I went to a field party instead. Many prom-goers showed up as well, so it all worked out. Yes teens reading this, you didnâ€™t invent field parties and we all know what you are up to at these â€œeventsâ€ too.
The point of all these anecdotes is that, for me in my final year of high school, I had choices and I was able to exercise them. I chose to go outside of my comfort zone, take the co-op program, not to go to prom, and boycott grad.
Sadly for the students of the Class of 2020, they donâ€™t get to make choices like this. Their choices involved online learning, working in essential services, and staying at home to be safe. I donâ€™t know of one teen who would say graduating in a pandemic is the way they wanted to celebrate this important transition into adulthood.
It may take some time for things to sort out and the next months and years will be bumpy for those students â€“ for everyone. Looking back in a few years though, hopefully you will see how the choices you had to make now, move you in directions you never thought possible.
Congratulations to the Class of 2020, and good luck. (Also donâ€™t forget to phone home occasionally.)