Congratulations, class of 2021. This year sucked.

High school seniors and eighth graders in Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside public schools are graduating after a year unlike any other. They are the first and hopefully only classes to spend their entire last year learning remotely or in a strange hybrid mix of distanced and in-person learning.

Reports of higher than usual numbers of adults with depression and anxiety are not uncommon, and we’re learning more about the effects that the pandemic has had on youth. 

It’s easy to say, “Kids are resilient. They’ll be fine.” And they mostly and hopefully will be. But there are still effects on our children that we certainly haven’t seen yet. An entire year of being away from their friends and social interaction and support was hard. Especially true for those who are moving on to next things. 

Virtual school plays, rearranged sports schedules and protocols, makeshift proms, outdoor (and, last year, drive-thru) graduations were necessary and exciting in a we-haven’t-done-this-before kind of way. 

But it doesn’t mean it is normal, that it brings the same closure, the same exhilaration.

If you’re a parent, maybe you got tired of pretending everything was going great. Maybe, when someone asked, you finally just said, “You know what? We’re having a really hard time. We’re not OK.” And maybe you were met with, “Oh my god. Same here,” with understanding and relief to know this is difficult for almost everyone. We’re not all OK.

That’s real and it is OK.

So congratulations to the class of 2021. To the students. To those who finished with honors and those who barely passed. To those going on to college or starting jobs, and to those figuring out what they want to do next. To those ready to take on the world and those just catching their breath. To their parents and grandparents and families, who lost jobs and friends and hope and still hung on. To the teachers, who struggled to take care of their own children and a classroom full of kids not their own. Who showed up and learned and adapted. Who helped and helped and helped these kids get through this year, never giving up on them. You were asked to do a lot. And you did it.

And to the students that didn’t graduate and to kids who have to repeat a year, and to their families: you did not fail. This has been a year unlike any other, and it’s enough that you are here right now. It’s enough that you’ve survived. We’re not all OK, and you are not alone.