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Southern Nash County had never witnessed a graduation parade before, but the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended the last few months of the school year, creating a “new normal” and a new vocabulary of “social distancing,” called for something unusual and special to celebrate the Southern Nash High School class of 2020 — and Saturday’s procession of vehicles through Spring Hope, Bailey and Middlesex full of the graduating seniors was truly unusual and very special.
The pandemic has been hard on the entire world. While Nash County has so far been spared the heavy onslaught of coronavirus cases and deaths that some counties have experienced, thanks to decisive leadership by Gov. Roy Cooper and county officials, the shutdown of almost all commercial, social, religious and overall communal life has come at a great cost. The ongoing threat of the pandemic through the rest of the year and perhaps even through 2021 promises continued economic weakness, social upheaval and levels of emotional distress not seen in modern times.
No institution has probably been hit any harder than the country’s educational systems, from kindergarten through college. The wrenching suddenness of closing classrooms, the pragmatic imperative of continuing to educate students, shifting to online classes in an area where not all students have adequate access to the internet, has been an incredible burden and challenge to teachers, administrators, parents and students themselves.
And so much has been lost by our students — proms, senior weeks, class trips, after-school and summer jobs, baccalaureate services and commencements. Adults facing their own worries can easily forget how traumatic it can be to lose these rites and memories of childhood.
But those teachers, administrators, student leaders and parents who came up with the idea of a graduation parade deserve great credit. Their creativity in the midst of adversity gave the graduating Firebird seniors an opportunity to have their genuine accomplishments recognized by the community in a way they won’t forget.
The event was hastily organized and the procession was sometimes ragged with gaps, but as the seniors moved through the towns, they were greeted by friends, family, neighbors and even strangers with posters, banners, balloons and lots of waves and cheers.
There was no ticker tape, no floats, no marching bands. But there was school spirit and community pride. There was genuine and authentic celebration. In the wake of loss, perhaps there was at least some small measure of healing and comfort. And there was certainly an abundance of affection and love shared between those who rode and those who cheered them on.
Familiar life will eventually return. There will be other graduations and senior years. But Saturday’s graduation parade for the class of 2020 was a heartfelt and heartwarming reminder that what makes southern Nash County such a great place to live is not what we do or can’t do, not what we have or don’t have, but who we are and who we truly care about.
We saw on Saturday the heart of our community — and it was beating proudly.