The first weekend in June is traditionally when our local public high schools — Nauset Regional High in Eastham and Cape Cod Regional Technical High in Harwich — hold graduation ceremonies. This should have been a time given to celebrations, embraces, and a sense of sweet accomplishment and release.
Instead, our graduates face a worldwide calamity and a nation in chaos. Could there be a more discouraging backdrop for what ought to be an exuberant and joyous time?
We have been here before. I was a member of the college class of 1970. My school years were punctuated by wartime atrocities, the murders of our most admired leaders, police riots, and, in May 1970, the shooting of 13 unarmed students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard.
Campuses across the country erupted in anguished protest, in much the same way that cities and towns are now boiling over in reaction to the state-sanctioned violence that killed George Floyd in Minneapolis and has taken the lives of so many more of our black fellow citizens.
The deeply flawed U.S. president at the time, instead of acting to heal a wounded and divided nation, used the powers of his office to persecute his political enemies and set in motion secret plans to subvert the democratic process and secure his re-election.
Richard Nixon’s scheme almost worked.
But the truth slowly emerged, and good people of all backgrounds and political persuasions came to agree in time that treachery and lawlessness must be purged from public life. The tragic and unjust war came to an end. Reforms were enacted — for a while, at least.
There is no guarantee that the current crises will subside and a more just and compassionate country will emerge from them. But reading the personal statements of our local high school seniors in this week’s Independent gives me hope. All of their comments came in the last week or so, as they suffered through the ninth week of physical isolation from teachers and friends, and faced the disappointment of canceled summer jobs and vacation plans and the uncertainty of work and study opportunities in the year ahead. Yet their words are full of gratitude and love, cautious optimism, self-awareness, and a resolve to try to go out and heal the world.
The people who inspired me in the early 1970s were journalists, who worked to find the truth and secure justice for those who had been wronged. Many of the graduates of 2020 are inspired by the nurses, doctors, and medical researchers who are working to comfort and heal the sick and to find the truth about a deadly virus that will enable us finally to defeat it.
They are the future, and that future looks, from here, to be full of promise.