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Commentary: Newport-Mesa school board put safety first by scheduling a virtual graduation ceremony

An image from the 2012 graduation ceremony at Newport Harbor High School.
(Daily Pilot)

I am writing in response to an open letter to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board that claimed to represent the views of the class of 2020 and want to make it clear that some of us have a different view (“Commentary: An open letter to the school board seeking permission for Harbor seniors to attend commencement,” May 22).

I am in support of the school board’s decision to hold a virtual graduation. Although this was an unpopular decision among many students, the need to protect our students, faculty and families continues to be a priority.

I applaud the efforts of our school board to provide relief for the families who have been most impacted by the virus. Whether it’s providing free lunches, computers or Wi-Fi, they have been working tirelessly to serve our needs. While I don’t often voice my opinions, I feel our youth should be educated on the severity of the issue.

In the open letter, it was mentioned that “every single member in our community understands the magnitude of this virus” and that this has “heavily contributed to the decline in the amount of new cases every day.”

As of May 21, we experienced the highest number of new cases within the United States. Within Orange County, the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise daily at near record numbers. It seems many in our community don’t actually understand the real severity of the issue at hand.

Orange County reported double-digit coronavirus-related deaths for the third time in a four-day span, bringing the death toll over that period to 42.

As someone who is attempting to self-isolate and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, it has become increasingly frustrating to go on social media and see large groups of my classmates gathering in crowds. I have also seen offensive remarks aimed at our state legislators and particularly Gov. Gavin Newsom.

While this situation is not ideal for any of us, I often question the motivation behind this “activism.” Many will argue that they want the economy to open back up to support our businesses and to stop the rising unemployment rate. Yet many of those who complain about the economic toll of the shutdown aren’t willing to wear masks to protect workers.

Given the behaviors that I’ve witnessed firsthand, I’ve come to realize that many of us simply wish to return to the luxuries of experiencing dining out, shopping trips and haircuts but aren’t willing to do it in a responsible way.

We must realize there is a displacement of blame. We must not blame our school board for the events that have unfolded. Instead, we must work together to stop the spread and support the decision of our school board as they are doing the same.

At 18, I have been forced to grow up over these past couple months. I have spent time witnessing the world around me while enjoying quality time with my family before heading off to college.

With this growing up, we must realize that in hard times it is our responsibility as healthy, financially secure young people to make sacrifices for the benefit of our community.

When it comes to the hashtag #wedeservebetter that has been circulating among my classmates, I strongly believe that we should spend more time recognizing how good we actually have it.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Trustees decided Tuesday to cancel in-person graduations at its six high schools in favor of a virtual commencement.

As many of us have been blessed to live in such an affluent place, I think the people who are more impacted by the virus are truly the ones who deserve better.

I invite my classmates to reflect on their time growing up in Orange County and to understand their privilege and find peace and pride in their upbringing thus far.

With growing up, we must realize that in crisis, we may not always receive the things we think we “deserve,” however we must show our true resilience by standing up and sacrificing ourselves for those who are hit harder.

Although teenagers are less likely to suffer serious consequences from the coronavirus, our roles as carriers of the virus means we are all personally responsible for stopping its further spread. This will help all of us return to normalcy sooner.

The bottom line is that holding an in-person graduation will not truly satisfy our desire for normalcy in the world we live in today. However, the potential spread of the virus could only make matters worse.

We have to be better than this. Within our community, there is a socially accepted idea that the need for large gatherings has outweighed the risks of contracting and spreading the disease.

As seniors, I believe we are role models to students who may see these actions on social media and believe it is righteous to go against the advice of our school board, government and doctors.

While a virtual graduation may not keep students from ignoring guidelines, it serves as a reminder to those of us who have forgotten the severity of the issues at hand.

To my classmates: We must remember that in due time we will move beyond the uncertainties of the present and return to our normal lives. In the meantime, let’s remind ourselves to be thankful.

The writer, a Newport Beach resident, is a graduating senior at Newport Harbor High School.

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