“It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,”—Orwell

They were the last class I taught—the Class of 2020. And the other night London City Schools lit up the stadium in honor of these students who won’t be wearing caps and gowns to march down the aisle.

“Drive to the football field,” the Facebook posts said all day. “Turn on your lights and honk your horns and show these seniors you care.”

The weather that day reminded me of the beginning of Orwell’s book 1984.

“Listen to this opening sentence,” I’d tell students when I introduced the book: It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

“Something’s wrong there, Mrs. Swartz,” they’d say.

And all day as I thought about going to the stadium, I too felt that the clocks were striking thirteen.

These students were wearing masks instead of mortarboards, distancing from grandparents instead of inviting them to open houses, wondering if college dorms would open in the fall instead of going to college tours, and fearing that a collapsing economy would rob them of careers.

And all this happened just as they were on the cusp. All year, as they checked out my groceries at Krogers or when they stopped by my porch, they had been telling me their hopes—to be an engineer, to play for the Ohio State Band, to teach, to get accepted into medical school, to play college football.

They were also vulnerable. I knew their middle school wounds—one had been beaten by her dad, another one bullied by his classmates. For one the letters had danced on the page making it impossible to decipher a sentence. Another had been on a lonely search for friends who could appreciate his sharp and quirky mind. One had stuttered and another ticced and yet another had been so shy she could barely lift her eyes to mine.

Throughout that bright, cold April day, I thought about these students.

And when the sun set, my husband and I joined the caravan of cars driving around the football field. Our lights were on and our horns blaring. I smiled and waved and tried to convince myself this wasn’t a funeral.

The Class of 2020 is beginning adulthood in strange times, when the clocks seem to be striking thirteen. This is not the time I would have chosen for them.

But I’ll be interested to see what they do with it.

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