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Senior year brings important rites of passage. For high school seniors, prom and graduation are milestones rich with meaning. For college seniors, commencement provides an occasion to celebrate academic achievement. All these events point a young person toward the future, with its opportunities and fulfillments.

This year, of course, is different. The coronavirus has stepped into our lives and denied us countless joys we’ve long taken for granted. High schools have had to cancel proms and in-person graduation ceremonies. Universities have shifted, unavoidably, to virtual commencements.

COVID-19 has turned out to be a rite of passage for our whole country.

Words can’t erase the disappointment seniors and their families are feeling this year about these losses. Still, it’s been encouraging to see how Nebraska school districts and universities have worked hard to express their appreciation to students and provide meaningful substitute experiences. Here are some examples from higher education, where many Nebraska schools plan in-person ceremonies later this year:

• Creighton University will hold a virtual degree-conferral ceremony on Saturday and college ceremonies throughout the weekend. As Creighton’s website explains, the university is using a wide array of communication tools, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Giphy, to provide commencement- focused opportunities for seniors and their families.

• The University of Nebraska at Omaha held virtual graduation ceremonies last weekend for its six academic colleges. UNO has put its May 2020 commencement book online.

• The University of Nebraska-Lincoln held its virtual #GoBigGrad graduation celebrations last weekend, and related videos are available online. “Our staff have worked tirelessly behind the scenes preparing and mailing nearly 3,700 celebration boxes to each of our honorees today,” Chancellor Ronnie Green told families in one of the videos.

He described UNL’s history extending back to the 1860s, saying, “How lucky that Nebraska’s flagship land-grant university has helped generations of Nebraskans experience the transformative power of higher education. There are a lot of people here who continue to build on a bold vision started in 1869.”

In the Nebraska Panhandle, Chadron State College President Randy Rhine addressed students and families as part of the school’s virtual commencement. “I am so grateful to all our staff and faculty at Chadron State College,” he said, “who were not deterred by the events swirling around them and stepped up to ensure that our students would be able to enjoy this moment today even though it is occurring in a virtual modality.”

Commencement speakers are known for offering advice to new graduates. This year this observation is appropriate: Rites of passage occur not just in our youth but in later life too. Some of the challenges will be unexpected — the virus crisis is an example. So, graduates, it’s OK to acknowledge the disappointments, but always look forward. That mindset builds confidence and helps you better appreciate the successes that lie ahead.

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