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Arkansas' 2020 graduates are being well celebrated, despite the pandemic that upended their school year.

They deserve these moments, considering what awaits them. More about that later. First take note of the celebrations.

A few smaller schools are pulling off in-person graduations for socially distanced participants before limited audiences.

Other schools are planning future opportunities for graduates to walk before friends and families to pick up those hard-sought diplomas. Or they've planned virtual ceremonies in the shorter term.

When it is all over, graduates will have their diplomas and, more importantly, the knowledge that paper represents.

The students are missing out on proms and parties that go along with graduation. But their hometowns are going the extra mile to acknowledge graduates from their local high schools.

We've seen seniors, adorned in caps and gowns, standing along a small town's main street as local residents, most of them kith and kin, drove by them all, acknowledging their accomplishments.

In another city, seniors poked their heads through sunroofs and out the windows of cars or paraded in convertibles to drive through neighborhoods where friends and strangers cheered them on.

Elsewhere, school grounds have been lined with large photos of graduating seniors or their images have flashed from electronic billboards. Local media have also made a point of highlighting graduates.

Seniors across the nation participated in a virtual prom with a popular online host and a graduation address from former President Barack Obama. Other celebrities entertained and encouraged.

Last week, former President Bill Clinton was a surprise virtual speaker at all five Little Rock School District high school graduations. That city also lit up the Arkansas River bridges in each school's colors as their respective graduations took place.

The point is, 2020 graduates got to celebrate this milestone, albeit differently than other classes. They and their communities made it memorable despite the abnormal conditions dictated by the coronavirus.

The Class of 2020 deserved it all, particularly since the high school grads and their college-aged counterparts face some enormous challenges after the celebrations are done.

Some of the high school graduates will go on to college in an as-yet-unknown atmosphere that could involve online learning as well as the traditional campus experience.

Others, like most of the 2020 college graduates, will try to enter the nation's workforce.

A difference between the high school graduates and the ones who've earned college degrees is that the college grads may also be carrying a pile of student debt away with them, making their job searches all the more critical.

They're all seeking admittance to a workforce overpopulated with people who are literally out of jobs right now in an economy filled with struggling businesses.

April unemployment figures in Arkansas shot up to 10.2 percent as almost 70,000 more jobs were lost in the state.

All sectors posted losses, according to the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, but the worst hit came in leisure and hospitality.

April's 10.2 percent employment rate was more than double the March rate of 5 percent.

The Arkansas rate in April did trail the national employment rate of 14.7 percent, which tripled the national rate of 4.4 percent seen in March.

All those graduating seniors may be challenged to find either temporary or permanent jobs in or out of Arkansas.

That's not how it was supposed to be.

Remember, before the pandemic, students anticipated graduating into an environment with what amounted to full employment. Anyone who wanted a job could theoretically get one.

Just a year ago, there were 111,200 more nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas than there were last month. The business environment was altogether different with companies looking to expand.

Then came the virus, spreading across the world and into even the most rural of states, forcing economies to shut down or at least pull back.

The drop in Arkansas employment is fortunately less than had been expected. Projections put the anticipated employment loss in April at 12.5 percent, which makes the actual loss of 10.2 percent sound somewhat better.

The problem is that the decline isn't over, according to the economists who predict such things.

One statewide forecast puts the drop at 17 percent by summertime, an unemployment level not seen in this state for almost 40 years.

What actually happens will depend on how successfully the economy is able to reopen, whether customers return and spend money in the state's businesses and whether lost jobs are recovered and struggling businesses stabilized.

And those developments depend on how and where the virus continues to spread and how, or if, people can live with it.

Commentary on 05/27/2020

Print Headline: One last, difficult lesson

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