2020: In A Class By Itself

Rande Richardson

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  — Nelson Mandela 

The Class of 2020 will forever hold a chapter in the book of COVID-19. Students have been deprived of the experiences and joys of many things a complete senior year brings: awards ceremonies, spring sports records, friends, proms, yearbook signings, graduation. The ceremonial rites of passage for their hard work in the classroom, on the athletic field, on stage, and with other extracurricular activities will not be the same. 

    We are all a product of a variety of influences. In the mix of nature and nurture, we are largely shaped by our education. Who we become includes lessons from a variety of influences including parents, family members, coaches and other community role models. We have all had teachers or professors who were instrumental in shaping us. Some took a special interest in our success or believed in us in a way that changed the direction of our lives. In recognizing the loss of the senior year, it heightens our appreciation for the way our school experience advances us to the next stage of life. Our community’s educators are due a special thanks for continuing to develop young minds and souls even from a distance. 

    Education is an investment, and one of the most critical we can make. Since its roots in 1929, the Northern New York Community Foundation has held education high on its list of priorities. Through those 90 years, more resources have consistently been directed toward education than any other area. Community Foundation donors have enabled substantial investments in educational programs, institutions and education-focused nonprofit organizations. For a decade, youth philanthropy programs have educated the next generation about civic service and community needs and resources. Scholarships have helped many thousands of local students as they began or continued their educational journeys, including nontraditional students and those pursuing studies in trade, vocational, and technical fields. Some of those students have remained in the north country, joining our local workforce and helping to meet its needs. Others have chosen to bring their talents elsewhere. Each has contributed to making our world a better place. 

    We are fortunate to partner with many schools in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties to provide long-term stewardship of precious scholarship dollars. Many of those schools have also established educational foundations so donors can support learning beyond scholarships to include every facet of education, including the arts and athletics. We have worked alongside community groups to build educational resources for members of the military and their families. The people of our region have a tradition of generosity that has helped change and shape lives, and, ultimately, made our communities stronger and our workforce better equipped. 

    While in many ways the Class of 2020 was shortchanged, they have been given enhanced valuable life lessons that will serve them (and us) well. The Class of 2020 is one of adaptation, resiliency, flexibility, persistence, resourcefulness, patience, appreciation, tenacity, grit, determination, discipline and strength. They are better equipped for whatever may come their way. You have learned how to learn and find solutions to unexpected challenges. 

    The greatest gift an educator can receive is knowing the difference they have made in the lives of their students. The words, “you changed my life” or “because of you” are music to the ears and a testament to what a good teacher can accomplish. To the class of 2020 and all who have shaped them, know that what you do with adversity and challenges will define your character. Just like the teachers and others who brought you here, your impact will be significant, life-long and lasting. You have the opportunity today to inspire and shape a better tomorrow as you lead our community, society and the world. That is a reason to celebrate and be hopeful. In case you haven’t noticed, we need that now more than ever.