Earlier this week, we ran a story about seniors petitioning to have in-person graduation. Students at Ashland Blazer High School are seeking to have an in-person ceremony later in the summer.

While the students’ desires are understandable and they have gone about the request the right way, I understand their desire to have a “normal” graduation. And I appreciate they are taking a stand for what they want. I commend them for taking that stand.

Here’s a secret about high school graduations … they are all the same. However, yours will be different. Yours can be remembered for being unique. Everyone has a graduation ceremony; you, through no fault of you own, can’t. When you’re old and telling stories, you’ve got an ace in your pocket. The year graduates didn’t have a graduation.

But, before we get started, this is a point I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t make.

“I think I’m speaking for everyone when I say this,” Langley Sebastian said. “We have all been through high school together. We have been together for four years. We all started it together and we were all excited for the idea of ending it together. I think a lot of people would want to end it with their classmates than just several of their family members in a gym.”

I guarantee you’re not speaking for everyone. There are students in your graduating class who can’t wait for high school to be over. It might be issues at school or issues at home, but the reality is there are students suffering and counting the hours until they can get out, be it their house or their school. For you, high school was a highlight; for them, it was something it took all they had to survive. They don’t want it to drag on until later in the summer. They might be shipping to boot camp or going to college early or moving out or staying home or starting work, but they can’t wait for high school to be over. And it is for a completely different reason than most of your classmates, those who you do speak for.

Now, back to the column at hand: as the headlines says, embrace the weird.

But the thing that came to mind as I read the story was that I can tell you on no hands how many times I’ve thought about my high school graduation, much less talked about it.

I graduated with somewhere north of 500 classmates from Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Here’s what I recall from that day: Get up early, drive to the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Wait. Shuffle into several rooms by alphabetical order. Wait. Put on cap and gown. Wait. Shuffle into main room. Wait. Sit and listen to speakers — whose speeches? I couldn’t tell you were about if my life depended on it. Wait. Stand, walk to stairs. Wait. Walk across stage, get diploma, and sit down. Wait. Throw cap in air. Leave.

You know what makes my graduation different than any other PAHS graduation in the last 40 years? The year on the tassel. You know what makes mine different than any of the other 10 schools that graduated that weekend in Virginia Beach? The color of the cap and gown.

Something like 5,500 grads in a weekend, the same story, year after year after year after year. (My brother, who graduated six years later from Ocean Lakes High School, had the same graduation — though with a different year on the tassel and a different color cap and gown.)

You know what I remember from my graduation day … dinner with family and friends at Rockafeller’s Seafood that night.

Working for a small newspaper company in central Virginia for four graduation cycles, I covered 12 graduations. The only way I could differentiate the graduations was the color of the caps and the year on the tassel. And I took photos and wrote stories at these graduations. But looking back, it was another year, another round of high school graduations. They all blur together, nothing unique or remarkable about any one of them. 

Class of 2020, you have the chance to be unique, to be different. Embrace the chance to have a story different than any and everyone else’s. Run with it. Don’t petition for in-person —  every person for every graduation has done that. Petition to make it even more unique. I don’t know exactly how, but you truly have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, don’t waste it fighting to be like everyone else.


MATT JONES is a page designer and photographer. Reach him at mjones@dailyindependent.com

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