Weekly Column

As the school year draws to a close, I am thinking about all of the Nebraskans who are graduating this month. Even in the midst of COVID-19, this time of year is cause for celebration. Whether you are finishing high school, college, graduate school, or a vocational program, graduation marks a major turning point in a person’s life. It is an opportunity to applaud your accomplishments and look forward to what lies ahead.

Things are certainly different this year, but schools across Nebraska are coming up with creative ways to make the most of this moment and make sure graduates get the recognition and send-off they deserve.

In the Panhandle, parents from several high schools came together to create an “Adopt a Senior” Facebook group. Parents can post short bios about their graduating senior to the page, and other members of the community can choose to “adopt” one or more students and send them gifts, such as their favorite foods, gift cards, or other presents. This has been a great way to make sure these students still feel celebrated, even when they won’t get to experience the graduation ceremony they were looking forward to. 

Another heartwarming story out of Kearney involved Japanese exchange student and University of Nebraska at Kearney senior Ryo Kawamoto. Ryo was looking forward to experiencing an American college graduation. But UNK, like just about every other school across the country, had to postpone their spring commencement until later in the year. Unfortunately, Ryo wasn’t going to be in the U.S. until then – he had to fly home at the end of April to be with his family and finish the school year remotely.

Thankfully, one of his professors, Amy Nebesniak, decided to make him feel special before he left. She and her family surprised him over Zoom with a virtual ceremony just for him, complete with a cap and gown they sent to his apartment and music performed by her children.

Although schools have not been able to hold traditional commencements, many have found other ways to put together ceremonies for their seniors. Many high schools have put on “reverse parades,” where students line up six feet apart and friends and family can drive by and wave at their graduates. I have also heard stories about other kinds of social distancing-friendly parades, such as in Elwood, where the fire department led the way in a drive through town honoring Elwood Public Schools’ graduating class of 17 seniors.

Other schools still plan to hold their commencements at a later date, but some have chosen to hold virtual ceremonies as well. Among these are Louisville and Plattsmouth High Schools, as well as several high schools in Omaha. Throughout the month of May, these schools and others have posted their ceremonies online for students to watch from home. Even though these seniors couldn’t attend the ceremony they expected, I was touched to see their teachers go above and beyond to honor them in this way.

Stories like these remind us that although COVID-19 has interrupted much of our normal routines, we can still find ways to recognize each special graduate and celebrate life’s important milestones.

To Nebraska’s class of 2020, I can’t wait to see what you do next. No matter what that may be, remember that your leadership and contributions are going to shape the future of our communities, our state, and our country.

It’s true that commemorations are a bit unorthodox this year, but that doesn’t change how proud Nebraskans are of each and every one of you. Congratulations.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.