When I look back over the lives of these young adults who have been forced to adjust their lives and forego the many rites of passage that come with the end of their high school careers, I see an 18 year journey with many examples of challenge and loss, but also a journey filled with resilience and hope. Their lives, to date, are book-ended by fearful and uncertain times. But the nurturing by family, friends and community has become a foundation from which I know they will flourish.
This class has experienced great losses, including marathon bombings that rocked our immediate world, mass shootings including one at a not-too-distant elementary school just like ours, ugly racially motivated events, devastating immigration policies, the trauma of active shooter drills, and the deaths of beloved friends/teammates by careless drivers. Some of these new adults lost a parent. Some lost grandparents and other family members. Others were, and some still are, first-hand foot soldiers in their parents’ battles against cancer. As parents, these losses were enveloped in an environment of constant foreign wars, church pedophile scandal, post-9/11 trauma, climate change fears, economic recession, racial injustice, escalating global and domestic terrorism, our own loss of spouses, parents and friends, and caring for sick children, friends, spouses and parents.
But their lives have also been woven with resilience and joy: fine and performing arts awards and outstanding performances, 12 professional sports championships, an 8-year presidency built on hope, multiple state championship sports teams, beating cancer, building a community based on racial and gender acceptance, to name a few. They have seen whole neighborhoods rise to help families in need. They have seen whole towns rally to end teen suicide and stamp out hate. They have seen friends’ parents build organizations, with love, compassion, determination and hope, to find cures and a better life for those in need (near and far).
We work as parents to protect our children from disappointment and loss. But the usual experiences are unavoidable and character-building: cut from the team, not getting the part in the play or band, losing at State, injuries, adolescent heartbreaks and mishaps, debates lost and academic struggles. As a town of privilege in the world, the disappointments caused by the pandemic are small in the grand scheme of things, but in our lives and hearts, they are deep disappointments for which we were unprepared and from which we wish we could have shielded them. Now the pandemic has been overshadowed by the killing of a Black man at the hands of a White policeman and all that tragedy represents; laying bare, once again, our nation’s racial inequality and our lack of commitment to rectify it. This is a pivotal moment for this country and we and these graduates will play essential roles in the path our nation takes.
This class is poised to guide and accelerate new approaches and solutions to local and global challenges. They will force huge changes in this world that desperately needs their new perspective, their love of our planet, their realization of holes in our nation’s safety nets, their passion for social justice and diplomacy, their empathy for marginalized and less privileged children and their newly-minted understanding of the world stopping and basic expectations denied.
They are learning a valuable lesson that came to most of us much later in life - We may think we are in control, but often-times, we are not. So at this young, milestone age, they are honing their ability to adapt - which is a survival skill. It is creating in them a deeper pool of resilience which will enable them to endure future challenges, focus their attention on injustice and heighten their appreciation for the positive experiences undoubtedly coming to them in their future.
I feel a deep sense of pride in this class of graduates, and those who have graduated from college in these uncertain times. They have had a remarkable journey, and it has only just begun. We gave them all the resources we could to navigate thus far. I didn’t do everything right. But I did everything with love. I am confident they will go out into the world, find and create all the joy the new normal will bring and make it a better place. And they will choose kindness, overall.
Congratulations, Class of 2020!