My high school graduation is way back there in the rearview mirror, but I remember a lot about it. It was a warmer than usual late spring day when my classmates and I walked down the aisle in the Caruthersville High School gym dressed in red and white. My grandparents were there, my mom and dad and sisters. Principal Joe Parkinson – we called him Spider Joe behind his back –handed out our diplomas. I remember post-graduation, too, as some friends and I stayed up all night doing things we shouldn’t do and then had breakfast at Curtis’ Truck Stop.

I wondered aloud with some coworkers recently about the memories the Class of 2020 will have, or be deprived of,from their high school senior year. They are the COVID-19 class. Many is the story that will be told about their senior years, cut short in various ways by the virus that has sickened much of America and left a lot more of it flat broke.. . The baseball player that never got to finish his career. The artist who was a sure bet to place well at districts. The student who, if they did just a little bit better this final semester, had a chance to be salutatorian.

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If the Class of 2020 had been a movie, we would have missed the ending.

Sad in many ways, yes, but there are still good memories thanks to the way people come together during a crisis. This class will remember following COVID-19 guidelines as they went to pick up their caps and gowns. They will also remember a community that recognized them with Class of 2020 yard signs, billboards and love enough for a lifetime. This class missed out on the hustle and bustle of senior year. They also had time to slow down and spend time with special people who helped them through one of life’s tragedies.

There are lessons to be learned from COVID-19.

Life can be hectic for a 17-year-old. If you think it’s hectic now, wait until you’ve got a spouse, two or three kids, a job, supper to cook, a bad back, Little League ballgames and chamber of commerce meetings. Real life makes high school look like a summer vacation.I know. I’ve been down the road.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned going through COVID-19 is this:

Slow.

Down.

We haven’t had a choice but to slow down. Most everything is cancelled or postponed.The only reason I check the calendar on my iPhone nearly every day is to see what I am missing.

My advice, Class of 2020, is to remember that all those things we had to do didn’t really have to be done. Sure, life isn’t all about working 8 a.m.-5 p.m. every day, cooking supper and doing it all over again the next day. We need our adult extracurricular activities and meetings, just not so many of them. The same can be said for you as you leave home and make it on your own.

I hate the term “new normal” that so many people are tossing around these days. I figure one of these days we will be shaking hands again and sitting two feet apart, maybe closer. But if there is a new normal, I hope it includes less cluttering of our lives and more of enjoying life.

You see mom and dad stressed. Hopefully COVID-19 has made us realize that life isn’t supposed to be that way. I, for one, will slowly add “stuff” back into my life, taking care not to overdo it once again.

Anyway, I hate you missed out on so many special parts of your senior year, but please remember all the people who tried their best to make it special. That means much more than getting a cup of coffee at a truck stop at 6 in the morning.

My advice to the Class of 2020 now and in the future is to take life more slowly than you think you should, and count your blessings, not your burdens.