Ceremony.

High school graduation this year is under an enormous white tent, surrounded by the community. Not everyone is pleased with the arrangement — that’s pretty much a given — but the tent looks regal, the weather is magnificent, and, well, we’re still pulling out of a pandemic.

I chose a seat in the sun just under the edge of the tent. The principal’s speech goes on and on, and I begin to wonder, where are you headed with this, David, when suddenly I begin to guess. He’s facing the sixty or so graduates, speaking directly to them, about the hard year and a half they’ve endured. A few months before the pandemic, a member of their class committed suicide. Shortly afternoon, the pandemic shut down our world.

Looking through the tent and over the soccer field, I see people I know in one way or another, and many more I don’t know at all. Listening, I feel the principal’s speech pulling us together, acknowledging the difficulty of these past 15 months without bitterness or regret, the layers of isolation and anxiety, of political division, of frustration with a world turned awry.

He asks us to breathe in deeply, collectively.

Around us, the sunlight sparkles on the grass. A tiny girl stands outside the tent, her long hair unbrushed, staring in.

The strange thing is, I can’t breathe in deeply; I’ve been holding my breath for so long. But looking around, I realize these friends and acquaintances and strangers are collectively here for one reason — to champion our youth forward — and for the first time, I begin to feel (not think, not believe, but feel) that the way forward is indeed opening.