PRESS EDITORIAL: To the pandemic graduating class: Please save the world

Commencement speakers are wont to urge high school graduates to follow in the footsteps of the great achievers who came before them.

But the message to this year’s graduates should be: Don’t settle for what previous generations accomplished. They failed you. You can do better. You have to do better. For your future and the world’s future.

Members of the classes of 2021 and 2020 were made to pay a price unlike that of any of the graduating classes before them in the disruption of their educations by a pandemic their elders failed to prevent or control.

The students may have been spared the tragic consequences of the pandemic that has killed 3.5 million people worldwide, but these teenagers are the victims of collateral damage that for some will have lasting effect.

At a critical juncture in their learning lives, at the threshold of college and careers, they were denied classroom education and the character-forming social structure schools provide. They were deprived of the beloved social and athletic experiences and rituals that are available only in a short segment of their lives. Some had to endure the pain of losing loved ones and seeing their families struggling with lost income.

They, like the multitudes who have suffered and perished, are victims of the hubris and negligence of world leaders who ignored the warnings of the impending pandemic and the scientific advice on limiting its devastation.

Microbiologists warned as early as 13 years ago that deadly varieties of the coronavirus were a threat to the world. Scientists wrote scenarios long before Covid-19 appeared that proved to be eerily accurate predictions. In 2017, one described travelers carrying a virus from China to the U.S., where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified it as a novel coronavirus for which there was no rapid diagnostic test, treatments or vaccine.

Virologists struggled to convince governments, medical education institutions and pharmaceutical companies to fund research to develop treatments, vaccines and protocols to defend the world against the pandemic they saw coming, but to little avail.

Even a world that was unprepared for the Covid outbreak could have prevented it from becoming a pandemic had its leaders listened to scientists.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response reported that it was “a toxic cocktail” of “delay, hesitation and denial” that caused millions of deaths and the devastation of the global economy. The international panel found the most powerful nations most guilty.

China, from where Covid-19 sprang on the world, instead of using its economic power and technology to mitigate the spread, used its totalitarian tools to squelch information that would have provided early warning of the coming plague.

The European Union, whose leaders revel in its reputation for providing well organized government services, dithered and vacillated as the virus laid waste to its nations.

And America, armed with more resources than any country to fight the pandemic, pitted politics against science, crippling the response  to the point where Dr. Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus coordinator, said that about 80% of the nation’s Covid deaths (now numbering more than 600,000) could have been prevented by swifter government intervention.

And so, a fitting message to the pandemic graduating classes would be: The high school experience you lost cannot be replaced, but your experience observing the failure of those in authority to meet their responsibilities to their citizens can be taken as a lesson to motivate you to be the generation that leads the way to a world guided by scientific enlightenment and its compassionate use for the benefit of humanity.

To that charge to graduates, we would add: Before you save the world, have some fun. You deserve it.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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