Elizabeth Engler Modic, Editor

The once in a century global pandemic dramatically changed the way my twin sons’ senior year ended – rather than a string of milestones from prom to senior skip days to final sports seasons, it all came to an abrupt halt. Even without in-person goodbyes and graduation parties, it isn’t stopping the class of 2020.

Our boys attended separate high schools. One went to our local city high school. The other went to a local parochial high school. So, even though they graduated with different groups of classmates, they – along with all Class of 2020 graduates – are starting a new chapter in their lives.

If you’ve read this far, it means you’ve indulged a mom talking about her kids and you may be wondering what this has to do with manufacturing. Although they are graduating during the most unusual circumstances, this year’s senior class will one day lead manufacturing and other industries, and from what I’m seeing and hearing, they’re ready.

The public school’s graduation was recorded throughout a few weeks to give every student a chance to walk across the stage and move a tassel, just like in an in-person event, and was streamed on YouTube for all to view while remaining socially distant. So, as I watched (while shedding a few tears) our son and his classmates receive their diplomas, I learned what each graduate’s plan for the future was. These young adults are not letting a pandemic stop or change their planned paths.

Some aren’t sure what road they want to take, but many have clear plans. Some graduates who participated in the vocational education programs plan to head into the workforce using the skills they acquired. Others plan to attend colleges and universities to study everything from architecture (dear to my heart as my late father was one) to zoology.

But, one thing that caught my eye most was engineering. These high school graduates didn’t just say engineering, they were specific about which field they were going to study, citing aerospace, biomedical, biomechanical, electrical, manufacturing, mechanical, mechatronics, robotics, and more.

The Class of 2020 may not know, but the spark pushing American competitiveness toward becoming leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can be traced back to 1957 and the launch of the Soviet Union’s satellite Sputnik.

The focus around STEM was apparent from the day our children entered kindergarten. In summers, our kids and their friends participated in Camp Invention. During their school years they participated in science fairs, robotics clubs, rocket clubs, and math teams. For many in this year’s graduating class the STEM curriculum early on laid the foundation that has them choosing the path they will take after graduation.

With their lives upended by COVID-19, this wasn’t the milestone these kids expected, but the Class of 2020 is seeing firsthand how important STEM is to researching treatments for diseases and developing devices to aid patients. Years from now, the response to this pandemic may be as inspiring to them as Sputnik was to their grandparents.