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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Class of 2024 meets its unique challenges

The Columbian
Published: June 12, 2024, 6:03am

First of all, congratulations to Columbian newsroom kids Jack and Amelia, and thousands more Clark County high school seniors who are graduating this spring. While most of our lives are lived in seasons, graduations – like weddings, or launching a new career – mark distinct corners. For 13 years, as neighborhood children they assembled to get a basic education. Now, as the caps and gowns come off, the graduates go their own direction, never to reassemble in the same way.

Most members of this class were still eighth-graders when schools closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When they started attending high school that fall, it was by remote learning. They missed, or postponed, those opening-day jitters of navigating the halls, meeting their teachers and finding their tribe. It is likely that educational researchers will follow this class for years, trying to discern how the disruption affected their education and their preparation to live life as adults.

It’s easy to look at the trends and reports and worry for the future of this group. According to Clark County’s 2021 Healthy Youth Survey, which measured this class when they were sophomores, 40 percent reported suffering anxiety within the past two weeks, and only 43 percent expressed high hope for the future. (That might have been linked to too much screen time, as reported by 68 percent of the class, and less than six hours of sleep per night, reported by 42 percent.)

And, as critics of public schools frequently point out, this class as a whole didn’t perform well academically. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, as ninth-graders only 68.1 percent of this class statewide passed all of their classes. Even among students considered “highly capable,” more than 10 percent failed at least one class that year.

Yes, the Class of 2024 has faced adversity and consequences that we, as graduates of previous, simpler times, never faced. But that doesn’t mean that this year’s seniors are without intelligence and ambition. On Saturday, The Columbian’s Griffin Reilly profiled three graduates that have already accomplished some amazing things.

Skyview High School’s Simmi Sen wrote letters to professors until she found a medical school researcher who let her help. On the side, she started an online clothing business selling fashions of her own design. At Discovery High School, Cleo McBride led the effort to plan, fund and build a greenhouse to be used for hands-on horticulture classes. And Meron Ackerman at River HomeLink raised thousands of dollars to help refugees and orphans in Malawi, the impoverished African country where she was born.

These students are special, but they’re not unique. According to the website skillademia.com, graduation rates at U.S. high schools are on the increase, with the graduation rate of English language learners improving from 85.6 percent to 87.7 percent. In addition, this class had fewer chronic absentees from school.

In contrast to graduates of the millennial generation, this class has had better exposure to good career opportunities in the trades, and a better understanding of the true costs of college. And more of them are taking personal finance courses in high school, setting them up for a better future.

It’s been very challenging for the Class of 2024 to grasp their diplomas, and their challenges will continue. But there are reasons to be proud of these seniors as they walk across the stage and change their lives.