My turn, Larry Efird: Why we all should love class of 2020

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 31, 2020

By Larry Efird

As I gaze over a sleepy campus without another soul in sight on this late Memorial Day afternoon, there’s almost a holy hush reserved for early Sunday mornings. On some occasions, my daily walk brings me here, not as a teacher but as a seeker of things that cannot be found in busy classrooms and crowds of people.

In this most unlikely tranquil spot, where today it’s quiet enough to hear the words off a printed page rather than just read them, I am pondering the wisdom of  Leonardo daVinci, ironically far better known for his art and his inventions than his writings.

However, in the following declaration, he offers us a rare glimpse into his philosophical side: “I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.”

Is there any better tribute or admonition that I could offer up to my seniors who virtually graduated this past weekend — without the accompanying fanfare and family that other classes have gone out into the world with? In normal years, the campus quad would be filled with celebratory embraces and  balloons that are as festive as  a box of 120 Crayola colors.

Traditionally, this gathering  follows a muggy morning ceremony in the football stadium where  thousands of onlookers cheer on their seniors who excitedly take  their last steps as high schoolers and unknowingly  their first steps as adults. Not this year, however.

Much has already been said about the courage and the positivity the class of 2020 has demonstrated during the past 10 weeks or so, having had their youth abruptly ended. Who doesn’t applaud them, metaphorically, virtually, and physically at this point? Who better deserves our praise and our support?

I can’t think of anything I can add to DaVinci’s words which state what I feel for this new generation who has suddenly come of age without any advance warning or preparation, other than that they have done it beautifully and with much grace.

“I love those who can smile in trouble…” This isn’t talking about someone having a smirky smile for their mugshot at the police station while under the influence or someone who couldn’t care less.  It’s talking about those unique individuals who have learned to  “laugh at the days to come” as the Book of Proverbs tells us  surprisingly, yet wisely,in   its final  chapter. It’s not just a look of self-confidence, but of hope and assurance, whatever may lie  ahead.  I have seen this look on the faces of my seniors when I’ve been fortunate enough to bump into them around town in the past two months. Their cautious smiles tell me that they will be okay, and that even though they aren’t happy with how the year went down, they can accept it and move on.

“I love those…who can gather strength from distress…” Get it? He  doesn’t say, “…strength from success,” as is most often the case when seniors earn their well deserved accolades and scholarships on Awards Night. Strength from success is easy. Gathering strength from distress is heroic and noble. The class of 2020 has done this with distinction.

“I love those…(who)…grow brave by reflection.”  Reflection. Something that all teachers are mandated and encouraged to do regarding their best practices — and worst. Reflection. Something the yearbook is founded upon.

But what if reflection is painful and awkward and depressing? Isn’t the last quarter of this school year something most teachers, parents, and students would rather forget as quickly as possible, rather than rehashing it in our minds ad nauseum? Aren’t we all ready just to get this whole thing over, with  a quick return to normalcy?

Leonardo da Vinci — in a loose paraphrase — says he loves those “who can pull off getting to a better place not by avoiding suffering but by knowing how to translate it into something advantageous.” I have to agree with him.

He’s talking about those rare individuals who don’t spend all their time being bitter about what life has unfairly  sent them and making excuses for personal failures. He’s talking about those who know how to readjust their lives whenever necessary. He’s talking about the class of 2020. And I love them for it too.

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.