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PD Editorial: A memorable final chapter for the Class of 2020

It's a familiar rite of passage: high school and college seniors walking across the stage to collect their diplomas, while friends and families snap pictures and applaud.

That isn't going to happen for the class of 2020, not this spring anyway.

With large gatherings banned because of the coronavirus pandemic, schools are postponing commencement ceremonies, moving them online, even converting them into drive-thru affairs. Yard signs and window displays mark the homes of many young graduates in Sonoma County.

It is an unorthodox finish to an unusual school year.

But an absence of pomp and circumstance cannot diminish the achievement of earning a degree at Sonoma State University or Santa Rosa Junior College or graduating from of Sonoma County's two dozen public and private high schools.

These scholars will be our next generation of community leaders, entrepreneurs, first responders and essential workers of every stripe.

Those headed into the working world must cope with an unforeseen recession that erased tens of millions of jobs in a matter of weeks. All of them confront a changing climate and the schisms of American politics, magnified by a public health crisis in a presidential election year.

The challenges ahead are daunting, but Sonoma County's high school and college seniors already have a graduate-level education in perseverance.

In 2017, when they were sophomores, wildfires swept across Sonoma County, destroying 5,300 homes and closing schools for as much as three weeks.

Smoke from Butte County's calamitous wildfire and a near-record Russian River flood interrupted their junior year.

The Kincaid fire and PG&E's pre-emptive blackouts came at the start of their senior year, and they completed their studies under coronavirus stay-at-home orders.

This is graduation day at Santa Rosa Junior College, and it will be unlike any of the 100 ?commencements that came before.

Instead of gathering under the oaks for valedictories and conferring of degrees, the 1,700 ?students of the class of 2020 will be honored online - and invited to come back for next year's ceremony.

Sonoma State indefinitely postponed a half-dozen graduations planned for last weekend.

In a typical year, the coming weekend would be filled with high school graduations.

With schools closed since mid-March, graduation isn't the only event these students have missed. High school seniors didn't have proms, awards ceremonies or yearbook signings. Colleges and high schools canceled spring sports, concerts and plays. All these traditions were collateral damage from the pandemic.

In closing, let us address the class of 2020.

It is a tough year to be a graduate. But, forgive us a cliché, adversity builds strength.

The diplomas you earned reflect many years of dedication and hard work. Graduation ceremonies are a chance for those who assisted and observed - relatives, friends and teachers - to acknowledge your achievements.

We're sorry the coronavirus pandemic cost you that experience. But at class reunions down the line, these nonceremonies may prove more memorable than a run-of-the-mill commencement.

Congratulations, graduates.

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