If I was invited to address the graduating high school class of 2020, this is what I’d say.
Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished. Reflect on your victories. Plan your next steps. Draw inspiration from the Rolling Stones. “Catch your dreams before they slip away.”
COVID-19 has altered your choices compared with high school graduates of the past seven decades. Don’t let this discourage you. COVID-19 is part of your unique education.
“Time waits for no one. Hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste.”
Past graduates chose between work, travel, or further education. Work and travel are limited which leaves post-secondary education at B.C.’s outstanding community colleges and universities. Education is never wasted. Education offers the best return on your investment of time, effort and money.
I caution regarding a fad to refer to education as “learning” and students as “learners.” Beware of fads as you would the gentleman who says, “What’s confusing you is just the nature of my game.” Education embraces so much more than learning. Education is analyzing, problem-solving, deconstructing, reconstructing, imagining, questioning, reading, writing, socializing, sharing, teaching, encouraging, exploring, reflecting, rejecting, and that’s not even the tip of the educational iceberg.
While learners are passively taught the safe operation of simple, blunt-edged tools, students master incisive, nuanced instruments. Students are society’s actively thinking conscience.
Students critique previous generations and ask why. Why are hungry people dressed in plastic bags amidst abundance? Why is dirty water killing children? Why is there war?
Students proclaim uncomfortable truths and initiate reform. In contrast to learners, students are feared by the money grabbers, men of taste who’ve been around a long long year. Students question authority, expose greed, and build just societies. Be students. Get educated.
Until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, post-secondary education will shift to online instruction. In a recent article, University of Toronto professor Mark Kingswell declared, “Like most instructors, I will do my level best to approximate real seminars and lectures online” something every post-secondary instructor and librarian I know is striving to achieve.
Kingswell fears online education will rid post-secondary education of its social and cultural campus life. Such losses are neither complete nor permanent and don’t preclude virtual alternatives. Already, in response to COVID-19, there are free online performances of the Stratford Festival’s Shakespearean plays, free online concerts of popular classic and international music, opera live from the Met, ebooks, the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Cru Cru Cirque Hat Jugglers, and engaging podcasts by experts on astronomy to zoology. Such cultural exposure is coupled with online discussion forums within and between virtual communities.
Choose your courses with care; you can’t always get what you want. Many subjects are well-suited to online delivery and many instructors have been perfecting online courses for over a decade. Consider courses without labs including English, psychology, philosophy, sociology, history, anthropology, geography, French, Spanish, and mathematics. Choose sciences where lectures and labs are split into two courses.
Take labs post vax. Strategically, the next academic year is a good time to complete humanities, math, and science lecture requirements online from home. Beyond saving the cost of travel and room and board, studying at home enables you to shift more smoothly from high school to university, to become more successful students and, with time, wiser citizens.
Particularly in B.C. where the post-secondary system is so efficiently articulated, students may complete online courses concurrently from institutions in every corner of the province and receive credit for all of those courses towards their credential at their home institution.
The next academic year is going to be different. As in life, the quality of your experiences depends on your attitude and effort. A great education requires that you not let wild horses drag you away. Global pandemic or not, education is never easy, but always meaningful. With planning, online education can develop skills and open doors previously unknown.
Don’t be shattered. Like the Stones, remember, “I’ve walked for miles and my feet are hurting, but I can make it if I try.”
Robert M. Macrae is a Castlegar-based Environmental Technology Instructor.