CORAL SPRINGS, FL - It’s been almost two years since I graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

When I look back, I think about the emotional highs and lows of that day. I remember the nervous excitement I felt when I sang the song “Shine” on stage with my fellow classmates. I recall how crazy it was when Jimmy Fallon walked on stage and gave one of the funniest and most heartfelt speeches I have ever heard.

I felt so lucky to be able to graduate alongside my friends and boyfriend after the school shooting that we had survived just months before. It is also difficult to forget the tears I held back when my fallen classmates were honored and Joaquin Oliver’s parents walked across the stage to receive their son’s diploma with his framed basketball jersey in hand.

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These emotional moments were powerful, and that moment was the last time I got to be together with my fellow Eagles.

Today, I’m finishing up my second year at University of Central Florida, and I’m thinking about the Douglas Class of 2020.

I understand what they may lose without a traditional graduation at a time of the coronavirus pandemic. Since 2018, graduating from Douglas has become a bittersweet balance of honoring the peers we lost while celebrating the accomplishments of completing high school.

It’s going to be hard to maintain that sense of community and achievement over some sort of virtual ceremony.

The Class of 2020 is the second to last class that had survived the shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, and while many news outlets might have moved on, these kids still had to go to school every day where they were mentally scarred two years earlier.

As one Douglas graduate to the almost graduated Class of 2020, I want to say that I am proud of you all. While your high school career may be marked with tragedies, you have completed this milestone in spite of it all and will make a great addition to the MSD alumni family.

I agree with Mitchell Albert, who teaches hospitality DECA at Douglas, when he recently expressed how proud he was of this graduating class considering all of the obstacles that have been thrown in front of them over these four years. He also mentioned how much stronger they will be because of them.

Congrats to the Class of 2020 -- you’ll all do great things!

Ariel Braunstein is studying advertising, public relations and political science at University of Central Florida in Orlando. She is a member of Douglas Class of 2018.


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