NELDON: Class of 2020 has gone the distance

In boxing, when a boxer finishes a fight without being knocked out, it’s called “going the distance.”

To earn this recognition, these athletes have overcome adversity in the ring. They have taken punches, but kept fighting. They have been knocked to the ground and gotten right back up.

Less than two months ago, seniors across the country were knocked down by that same word — “distance” — their senior year ended in one sharp blow as the government and health officials advised social distancing was the only way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Much like the boxers in the ring, these young adults bounced back. They took the punches like champs, and they kept fighting.

Left with little closure to the hard work they had put in for the past 13 years, these soon-to-be graduates rallied around each other. They hosted virtual proms and Zoom study sessions. They adapted to new ways of learning. They celebrated with drive-by birthdays and decorated porches.

They took adversity in stride — and they came back swinging.

When social distancing first began, the staff at Leader Publications was full of sympathy for the Class of 2020. In hopes of making them feel special, we turned our annual black and white graduation newspaper section into a full-color, glossy magazine. We set up scholarships for an essay contest, hoping to give these students an outlet to vent their frustrations about COVID-19 and the way it wrecked their senior year.

When the submissions started pouring in, we realized these young adults were not seeking sympathy. They were not bitter. Instead, they were determined to make the best of a bad situation.

Over and over again, essay writers celebrated the fact that the Class of 2020 is full of fighters. Born shortly after the September 11 tragedy, these 18-year-olds have already survived a terrorist attack, an economic recession, a horrific slew of mass shootings throughout our country, and now a global pandemic.

These seniors have made it clear that these tragedies have only made them stronger, and that they have been repeatedly reminded to count their blessings.

Instead of mourning loss, these young adults are celebrating making history.

As they finish their high school career and take the first steps into their futures, our local seniors can celebrate the proverbial arm raise at the end of the fight, a sign they have won the battle.

Class of 2020, distance may have changed your senior year, but like all the best boxers, you have gone the distance.