Dear Graduates of ’20, ’21, and ’22,
I know you know.
We’re safe, we have shelter, and we have food. Our country isn’t being invaded. We have opportunities, and reasons for optimism. In the grand scheme of things, what matters of missed graduation celebrations, of lesser grandeur crossings of the stage, of a jagged and messy high school finish, of a clipped start to college, of restrictions and cancellations. Complaining feels out of place, maybe even wrong.
In the smaller scheme of things, it hurts. To know others before you and others after you get to experience things you won’t get to. To dream about events your entire high school career, only to have them pulled away. To wonder what may have been. I was talking to Keira about how her sister or other grad siblings would feel if they came to this year’s graduation banquet. We imagined how they would look around at the décor and the dress. What would they think? I never experienced this, I’m happy for these grads, but this could have, should have, been my experience. Their moment is lost.
A few words, if I may.
It’s OK to mourn, to get angry, and to let frustrations seep out. Talk to each other, talk to teachers, talk to parents, just talk. There’s no fix it solution here. Even the most lavish reunion banquet could not undo time. Unique sporting, artistic, or travelling events are simply gone. Starting college for the first time only happens once. We can shrug our shoulders, and say that’s life, let’s just move on, but we can also yell at the sky some, and metaphorically stomp our feet. The pandemic often left us feeling helpless, robbed, disappointed, and unmoored. Unloading, unburdening gives us a little something back, helps us understand if we need healing, and gives us permission to cry.
Tell stories. Tell them often. Repeat, embellish, and let them grow. If you’ve ever watch Monty Python’s Holy Grail, you’ll know while the actual viewing is funny, the best part is repeating the lines over and over again later. Many a wacky moment has happened in my classroom. Rafeeq and Ryen not knowing the alphabet or throwing pencil shavings with Ryan. Katrina and Catherlin calling each other hippos and rocks. Emma seeing a hole in Michael’s underwear. Be a storyteller. Share a meal and start your conversations with “remember when….” These are the true rich experiences, not necessarily the manufactured memory of a specific event, but the daily, chaotic, unplanned nature of life in school.
Accept with wonderment what may be. Some of you might be friends for life, united and bonded by high school while others might lose all high school connections in a few years, and enter new circles and environments. You’ll discover a lot about yourself in the next decade, find places to settle and live, partners to share life with, careers and jobs to give you purpose or dissatisfactions, and maybe even a baby to nurture and care for. Some say the next decade of your life will have the most life changes. More things will happen soon enough than what’s happened before. Plunge in fast or slow, it’s up to you, but soak it all in and treasure the day by day. Forget planning for the future once in a while, forget taking pictures and videos, and just enjoy the day you are in.
We’re in a different place now. Psychologists will have a grand time studying what the pandemic did and is doing to us. We’ll leave that to them, but we’ll keep our hearts and spirits tuned to this growing up, transitioning to adulthood business. Graduates of ’20 and ’21, we haven’t forgotten you. We share the ugly weight of what happened with you. We lift you up, just as we know you’ll lift us up with your future accomplishments and stories. Thanks for being stoic, for understanding, for writing your chapter in our book. Graduates of ‘22, as you make your final walk away from this school as a student, be sure to take a quick glance back, to take a mental photograph, and to let the nostalgia simmer lightly in your mind. Then look forward, walk ahead with joy and promise and nervous uncertainty. Hopefully there will be a blazing sun before you, and people walking alongside you as you share your laughter with them. As you do, you might hear a faint murmur over your heads, “Do us proud.”
I know you will.