As our elementary and secondary schools are approaching the end of the school year, I appreciate that those who are graduating Grade 8 or high school are missing some rites of passage, but I think we need to be careful about the language we accord to their circumstances. Words matter.
When I read the director of education’s May 26 message to ADSB graduates and their families, I couldn’t help but be slightly off-put by the word choice.
Here’s an excerpt: “Graduates, I want to recognize your remarkable character, hard work and resilience during this unprecedented time … Please know how proud our staff and our administration are of your strength of character and your accomplishments — and please continue to persevere.”
The idea of the message is solid, but “remarkable character” and “continue to persevere?” These students have been asked to stay at home and modify their learning experience online, they have not been asked to put themselves in harm’s way. Watching Netflix and playing video games is not “striking” nor “worthy of attention” in my world, which is the very definition of “remarkable.”
While it is unfortunate for students not to be able to see their friends nor participate in classes and school activities, it is a minor inconvenience compared to what our health-care workers are experiencing right now. Let’s reserve “remarkable character” for them please.
I probably wouldn’t have written this had it not been for the use of the word “hero” in the last paragraph. It starts off strong: “Graduates, do not focus on what isn’t happening, but rather focus on what lies ahead.” But, then, it says: “I leave you with the words of Bob Riley who said, ‘Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.’ You, graduates, are not only the graduating class of 2020, you are the 2020 Pandemic Graduate Heroes!”
I write this mere days after the anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces sustained more than 10,000 casualties as they stormed the heavily fortified beaches of France’s Normandy region. According to verterans.gc.ca website, 700,000 Canadians under the age of 21 served in the Second Wold War, and volunteers as young as 13 years old lied about their age to serve. That is heroic. Making the ultimate sacrifice, Private Gérard Doré, age 16, was the youngest Canadian soldier to die in the Battle of Normandy.
Teens and children back home worked hard on farms to ensure the food supply, collected scrap metal, donated their money, faced food rationing, and lost friends and relatives to the war, among other hardships. They persevered.
Missing his Grade 8 grad trip is a shame, having his graduation ceremony delayed is inconvenient, and online learning is not easy, but my son recognizes that these make his year remarkable, not his character, and that he is not a hero. (To me, his character is pretty remarkable, and so is my daughter’s, but not because of COVID.)
I don’t praise my children for the sake of praising them. They know that when I pay them a compliment, they have deserved it. I’d like educators to follow suit, and not pin a hero’s medal on participants.