Congrats to Class of ’20; now, go do great things

Each year, The PineBelt NEWS publishes a special section recognizing our area’s graduating high school seniors, and we’re currently preparing that section for release.

I’ve been working with local high schools to gather a roster of the graduating seniors and also their individual portraits. There are 11 high schools in Forrest and Lamar counties, including eight public schools and three private schools, and they’ll graduate approximately 1,600 students this academic year.

These students are entering the “real world” in a time of great uncertainty, and my heart goes out to all of them. Instead of spending their final months in high school worrying about prom dates and final exams, they’ve been worried about COVID-19 and if they’ll even get to have a graduation ceremony. They’re resilient, and we’re certainly proud of them.

Former President Barack Obama gave a virtual commencement address to the Class of 2020 on Saturday, and, as usual, I was inspired by his prose. Obama said the graduating class would have to “grow up faster than some generations” because of the world’s uncertainties, and he provided the class with three pieces of advice that I think are helpful.

The former president’s first piece of advice for the graduates was “don’t be afraid.”

He noted that America has gone through tough times before, and the country has always come out stronger as a result.

He said this is usually “…because a new generation, young people like you, learned from past mistakes and figured out how to make things better.”

Obama’s second piece of advice was for graduates to “do what you think is right.” He added that “…you won’t get it right every time, you’ll make mistakes like we all do … but, if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself, even when it’s hard, even when it’s inconvenient, people will notice. They’ll gravitate towards you … and you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”

His final piece of advice for new graduates was to “build a community” because “no one does big things by themselves.”

He urged graduates to “be alive to one another’s struggles,” to stand up for one another’s rights and to ditch old ways of thinking, including sexism, racial prejudice, status and greed.

Obama ended his speech by saying the graduating class is already full of leaders, and he’s excited to see the great things they accomplish. I’m excited, too, because I know our graduating classes are full of talent and promise. I’ve been privileged to interview several of them, and they’ve filled me with Pine Belt pride.

Consider Lorin Brown of Petal, who I wrote a story about this week. Lorin’s high school career was filled with success, and she’s been widely recognized as a student leader and for her academic accomplishments. However, I was most impressed by her sincere desire to help others as she pursues her dream career.

Lorin wants to study psychology and fight disorders like autism and dementia. She’s not seeking vast fame or fortune, but she’s looking for meaningful ways to help others in her community. I know she’ll continue to do great things, and I’m ready to write about them.

The Class of 2020 is filled with people like Lorin, and they need our support as they embark on their next chapters. Let’s rally behind them and be their biggest cheerleaders.

Congratulations, graduates. Go and do great things. We’re behind you.