Dear Class of 2020:
Whether you’re a high school senior, college senior, or even an 8th grader right now – this goes out to you.
I’ve seen everyone posting their senior class photos on Facebook recently – and have even participated. This was, apparently, in support of you. Do you feel supported? Do you feel better? 😉
You might not get a graduation ceremony, or the party you were hoping for, to celebrate your accomplishments. You may not even see all of your classmates again, in one room. What a wild time to be making a big life transition, as a young person – amidst a pandemic that has us all unsure about our futures.
After I posted my own senior photos the other night, I began thinking about my own years as teenager entering young adulthood. While they don’t compare at all to this COVID-19 shut down of seemingly everything, the level of uncertainty – I can relate, a little… and tell you what lessons I learned.
In 1999 I was in high school. I had just gotten my driver’s license, enjoying that feeling of independence and was high on life. I could go almost anywhere, it seemed, almost anytime. Then, the Columbine Massacre happened. This was a massive attack on high schoolers, by high schoolers. A school shooting at a time when this kind of thing was unheard of. Even though it happened in Colorado, everyone everywhere felt the pain. We as high schoolers were stunned – and started questioning our own peers. What if there is someone like that among us? Have I ever done something to make one of my classmates that angry? How is it possible that someone my age is capable of something so horrific? Could that happen at my school?
I graduated from Milwaukee Lutheran High School in 2001. I went out of state to college, attending Valparaiso University in Indiana – incoming freshman that same year of 2001. I didn’t know many people there. Those few I did know I had just met that summer, at orientation. On move-in day, there were storms in the area. Tornado sirens started going off. Just after my family had said good-bye, I was in the basement of my dorm with a whole bunch of strangers, wondering what was going on. No tornadoes came through Valpo, but that sure was one way to get to know people quickly.
Just when I’d thought a tornado warning on move-in day was the worst thing in the world that could happen, a couple weeks later four passenger airplanes were hijacked mid-air, and flown into buildings. The September 11th attacks occurred just weeks after I’d moved away to a different state from my family, for the first time. It was a tough time to be anyone anywhere in the world; it was especially tough to be a college freshman.
Our campus chapel at VU holds 2,000 people. I believe it’s the largest collegiate chapel in the U.S., possibly worldwide. It was overflowing with students and staff at chapel break that day. None of us in that room knew what to think, how to act, or what the future would hold. Many of us called home (I still had some minutes on my phone card!). A lot of people transferred in and out of school after that semester, or at the end of the school year.
Here is what I do believe came out of all of those uncertain times: maturity. And, as you are endeavoring to move on to life’s next big stage, maturity is what you need. Not every graduate has gotten that gift, in the past. 😉
These harsh realities sober us; they teach us to value things we may not have as much, previously… They force us to plan better, financially and otherwise… They force us into meditative thought, prayer and/or reflection… And they allow perspective, when life does eventually carry on, in a way that we can honestly say “let’s not sweat the small stuff.”
I sincerely care for the welfare of those I know who are students right now. Although I don’t have children of my own, I do have nieces and nephews, students and college interns (class of 2020!) that I work with. I’m concerned for them all at this time, but know that they – as we all – will come out stronger when this is all said and done.
2020 graduates: I personally think it’s a gift that has yet to be realized, that you are working through this challenging time. Keep working, though. It’s the ones who stop, who give in to the defeat, who will not be able to take advantage of this blessing in disguise.