Celebrating the class of 2024

Celebrating the class of 2024 Graduating senior Jillian Mancz reacts after receiving her diploma during commencement ceremonies at St Mary’s College Preparatory High School in Manhasset, New York, May 31, 2023. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Greg Erlandson

It is always hard to predict how a generation is going to be judged by history. When my dad graduated in 1939, did anyone see that his would be the Greatest Generation? Yet perhaps the stress and pressure of the Great Depression and the nation’s response to that challenge helped forge the courage that was to come.

I am going to be more than a little interested to see how the graduating class of 2024 turns out, but in my mind, theirs may be our Resilient Generation.


These were the kids who were denied a high school graduation four years ago because a worldwide pandemic was striking us. It is easy to forget what 2020 and 2021 were like. We have lost 1.2 million Americans to this disease (so far), with the majority dying in those first two years. It’s almost three times the number that died in World War II when the Greatest Generation made its reputation.

Of course, it was the Greatest Generation that paid the highest price in our fight with the pandemic as well. The elderly, particularly those in nursing homes, were hard hit. We may have forgotten the refrigerated trucks where bodies were stacked because morgues were overflowing, but those families who lost loved ones during these years have not. And in many of those families were the students who entered college in 2020.

These students had to adapt to a new way of doing college. At the beginning, public gatherings were taboo as we struggled to find out what would keep us safe. Dorms and classrooms were seen as potentially dangerous. Remote learning and Zoom classes, then-hybrid learning, were substituted for the normal collegiate experience. Incoming students were often strangers to their classmates for at least the first year.

Not everyone overcame these challenges, of course. Dropout rates and low attendance rates climbed. Those who earned the right this spring to march into their halls to the magisterial strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” had to overcome much to get there.

“My advice was simple: Care for others. Be grateful for what they have. Never stop learning”

All of which makes it more upsetting to know that at least a few universities, large graduation ceremonies were cancelled due to the demonstrations over Gaza. Unhappy graduates told reporters that they had been denied a high school graduation, and now four years later, they and their families were being denied a ceremony once again.

I had the rare honour to speak at one commencement ceremony that was not cancelled. It was for the University of St Francis, a small liberal arts school in Fort Wayne, Ind.
I didn’t talk to them about the state of the Church or the role of women or the proper liturgy they should attend.

My advice was simple: Care for others. Be grateful for what they have. Never stop learning.
This generation seated in cap and gown before me has experienced so much stress and anxiety, and I assured them that they don’t have to have everything figured out as soon as they graduate.

I believe the Covid pandemic will be the defining event of their generation, I told them. What I did not want them to forget is that they rose to the challenge. They were not deterred. They were resilient. And their resilience and their determination are what our country needs right now and, in the years, ahead.

If there are any marching orders, I think they need, it would simply be: Care for the family you have and the family you may one day have. Care for the weakest and most defenceless, the youngest and the oldest. Be grateful. Be resilient.

Greg Erlandson is an award-winning Catholic publisher, editor and journalist whose column appears monthly at OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @GregErlandson.