This Sunday, the last of the graduation ceremonies in the Tri-City area will take place when Almont, Dryden and Imlay City hand out diplomas to the Class of 2021. Capac gave their seniors a grand farewell in mid-May.

In a similar fashion to 2020, this year’s graduates and their families have a lot to reflect on, particularly how things looked and felt different from normal but this time, for an entire school year. Just about everyone’s senior year of high school is marked by well known traditions and some of those were lost or overshadowed by challenges that have come from changing schedules, shortened sports opportunities or the cancellation of trips or club events.

What the Class of 2021 has had is a front row seat to a shift in how education is delivered. It remains to be seen what changes will be temporary or permanent but everyone likely views “the classroom” a bit differently than before the pandemic. How these seniors accepted virtual instruction or the shift between in-person and online learning, coupled with the prospect of more online learning at the college level will likely shape their post-graduation plans. According to a survey conducted in the fall of 2020 by Third Way and New America, 32 percent of high school seniors in the United States said that the pandemic made them less likely to enroll in college and 70 percent of those surveyed believed that higher education “wasn’t worth the cost to students anymore” compared to 49 percent of college students overall. The authors of the survey concluded that high school seniors are more “disillusioned” than their peers already in college. Observers believe that this shift could spur many changes like real efforts to make a college education more affordable.

The pandemic has also spurred a shift in the way our society views careers too. In the past year we started regularly referring to doctors, nurses, aides and hospital staff as “health care heroes.” It’s been great to see several of our area Top Ten graduates indicate their interest in one of those fields, including public health. There’s been much discussion over what an “essential worker” is in the last 12-plus months and that’s undoubtedly influenced seniors’ plans for the future too. Perhaps the constant debates about public policy and the pandemic have spurred others to consider public service or political science.

Whatever the case may be for Tri-City area seniors, we know they’ll move on to accomplish great things. It’s only fair to acknowledge that the Class of 2021 has faced some real challenges but we trust that they have the potential to find their own way forward and contribute to making our world more resilient.