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  • Writer's picture Jana

Garin’s 8th Grade Culmination, In-person, Unmasked (Mostly), and Sweltering. What's a Little Heat?

You can't take anything for granted these days. In June of 2020, three months into the pandemic, no one was sure we would ever be able to attend a large gathering again without fear of contracting a deadly virus. In June of 2021, as Omicron descended upon us, there was the possibility you could attend a small gathering, if you were masked, vaccinated and the event was held outdoors. That hardly defines a graduation ceremony, or at least not the small gathering part. Fast forward to June of 2022 and much of that oppression associated with the pandemic feels like a bad dream we thought we would never awaken from.

As I sat there in the 90+ degree heat, with the afternoon sun beating down on me (not as oppressive as the pandemic lockdown, but unpleasant nonetheless), I couldn't help but think of how fortunate we were to be attending Garin's culmination ceremony in person. Most of the attendees were unmasked (because it was outdoors and insanely hot). In lieu of vaccination status checks, negative Covid test requirements, and social distancing, there were throngs of jubilant family members and friends, sitting side-by-side, singing, hugging and seeming to enjoy a general sense that all felt right with the world, at least for those brief few hours in time.

Aside from the scorching heat (I think this is the third time I made mention of the unpleasant temperatures), it couldn't have been a more perfect evening. The eighth graders, all in their Barbara Bush blue gowns, marched onto the field to Pomp and Circumstance, with huge smiles on their fresh faces. Rightly so, as there was much to be celebrated. The simple fact that all these tenacious teens had survived not only Covid, but distance-learning, and were having an in-person culmination ceremony, gave rise to a real sense of celebration.

Each of the five speeches given that evening was filled with references to Covid, detailing how difficult the last three years have been for these kids. They were just pint-sized sixth graders after all, when the pandemic hit with a vengeance. One day they were in school living normal lives and then suddenly, without warning they weren't, for the better part of eighteen months. Undoubtedly, this is not how any of these innocent tweens thought their middle school years would play out. That said, most of the speeches alluded to being stronger for having survived these trying times. One boy even went as far as to say that he wouldn't have changed any of the events over the past three years for anything, because of the inner strength he discovered within himself. I am not sure I would go that far, but his point was well-taken.. Most of us admit that the pandemic brought us to our knees, tested our limits, and then, in short order, showed us what we were really made of. For those of us fortunate enough to have survived,, we will always have that invisible badge of courage that we wear proudly. I survived Covid 19. The further we move past it, the more perspective we gain, hopefully realizing that we were all heroes, in our own right, just for surviving.

If nothing else, Covid taught us all to be more grateful for the simple things in life, As I sat there and watched these awesome 8th graders walk up to collect their diplomas, one-by-one, my heart was filled with respect and admiration for each and every one of them. Whether they graduated with honors at the top of their class or barely skated by, they all made it through, which was no small feat. And for those two and a half hours, last Wednesday night, that's all that mattered. Well, that and the fact that those of us in attendance survived the stiflingly heat.

All the kids posed by the last day of school banner at the elementary school.

It was a perfect day for an after school ice cream cone.

Illia's parent, Mykola and Tonya, sat with us for the ceremony.

The graduate (no relation to one of my favorite movies of all time).

The graduates.

It was touching to see Illia go through the culmination ceremony with the other kids and receive his diploma. His middle school years not only include the battle with Covid 19, but also the war with Russia, as he and his family fled Ukraine nearly 3 months ago. Speaking of incredible inner strength and tenacity, Illia certainly embodies that. Illia's parents were so proud of him.

We had a celebratory dinner the next night at home which included burgers, fries and root beer floats. Garin got to choose the menu.

He got to choose his cake too, which was a mint chip ice cream cake, perfect for the balmy weather.

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