It's a special year for graduates.

High school seniors and college students who completed their studies this school year had no idea only a couple months ago that their graduation celebrations would be nontraditional.

That instead of donning gowns and motarboards for a procession to a dais where they would be presented with a diploma, they would instead be honored by light displays, parades, yard signs and other creative replacements.

And what's wrong with that? Nothing. In fact, it's kind of cool to be different. It's exciting, challenging, rewarding and, yes, special.

Graduates — like most of us — had to adapt to the global novel coronavirus pandemic in early spring, meaning wearing masks and physically distancing. Classroom time ended and virtual lessons started. Parents and grandparents became teachers. Educators, administrators, superintendents and school boards scrambled to figure out a way to graduation for the Class of 2020.

If they hadn't already, everyone — in particular the graduates — learned that one guarantee in life is that situations will change, that they should expect the unexpected and embrace the challenge that comes with it.

Each challenge will make them stronger, like each windstorm strengthens the trees, and they will be able to move forward confident in the lessons they learn as a result.

They will be better prepared to bob and weave through life, whether the next situation is a virus or another challenge.

The onset of this spring's pandemic might not have looked like an educational opportunity at the time. But that's what it turned out to be. One in which the graduates, with hopes and dreams for all matter of end-of-schoolyear celebrations, learned the extent of their strength, adaptability, flexibility and — as much as possible — readiness for the next adventure.

It's coming.

Congratulations to all of the high school and University of Alaska graduates. We expect you are better prepared for this changing world than others who had traditional celebrations.

This makes you special.