Blankenship column: Graduation a time to relish the return to normalcy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 26, 2022

I was working the weekend of March 14, 2020, the Saturday Gov. Roy Cooper ordered every public school in the state to close as we braced ourselves for widespread COVID-19 infection.

I just happened to be the reporter scheduled for that weekend and a day earlier district officials were telling me the state was imploring schools to keep their doors open. The reversal was shocking.

The Rowan-Salisbury Schools had to immediately begin grappling with how they would go about the business of schools when no one was allowed to be in their facilities. District level administrators, the most I’ve ever seen in one place, gathered in the third-floor conference room of Wallace Educational Forum the next day.

Administrators are usually a buttoned up crowd at work, but the suits were traded for sweats that Sunday. The room was filled with desks spaced comically far apart from each other. There were no masks. This was the early stages where masks were in short supply and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not given the final word on if people should wear masks anyway.

I followed the incredible chain of events of the next few days: sending supplies home with students, delivering meals and figuring out how to hold classes.

I remember standing in Knox Middle School on the morning of March 17 for the first day of meal deliveries for local families. Knox was one of the hubs meals were sent from. Masks were still not a thing at this point, but there were lots of gloves, people were painstakingly careful to stand far apart and there were some apologies when people absentmindedly shook each others’ hands in error.

The chance of anyone getting infected was extremely low at that point, but that would change in just a few weeks. Students did not return to school that year and graduation ceremonies were drive-thru affairs.

The number of precautions was wound down piece-by-piece though the rate of infection and the number of people dying ebbed and flowed. Today schools look normal. When I visit them to write stories about their goings on there are staff and students everywhere. Social distance has largely been discarded as a term and only a few people here and there still opt to wear masks.

Now cases are increasing somewhat, but at nowhere near the rate as they were just a few months ago when the omicron variant infected so many. This year’s graduates are benefitting from the most-normal end to the year and their basic education we’ve had since the class of 2019.

The impact of the pandemic will be studied for decades, but I have one question: Will we forget about this? Nations are prone to collective amnesia. The 1918 flu pandemic was seldom mentioned in day-to-day life before COVID-19 came into public consciousness.

The end to this school year feels like a more sincere return to normalcy than the other false starts since 2020. This is a time to relish a bit of normalcy and enjoy walking across the stage, but I hope we do not forget the hardship of the pandemic or some of the most sincere efforts like a bus driver and nutrition workers bringing meals to families when they may have had nowhere else to go.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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