After performing very well in your on-line education for weeks, I learned that the school board had decided to let the high school Senior Class of 2020 finish their schooling at the end of April this year, because of the serious historic pandemic we’re living through. The reasoning behind their decision was sound, wise, and necessary for the overall health and well-being of everyone, not just the students.
When I went into your room to tell you the news, you were sitting back in your desk chair with your feet stretched out on the bed, working on your laptop. You were in the middle of completing some online coursework. I remember you were focused on your work, and I had interrupted you. I proceeded to give you the news, essentially meaning you would finish the year early and via online classes. You paused and stared at your screen for a moment and didn’t say anything. I asked you what you were thinking, and I’ll always remember your answer. You just looked ahead and said in a casual, innocent voice, “If I had known the last day of school was really going to be the last day of school….” and you didn’t finish that sentence. You didn’t need to. You appeared very mature and stoic on the surface, and yet I could tell you needed some time to process the news, so I left the room.
When I walked out, I reflected on what you might be feeling. This isn’t just any year in school for you; this is your senior year of high school. Within the last three weeks, your high school tennis team’s stellar season had been called off early for the year, and your school social activities, clubs, and senior field trip had all been canceled, including your senior prom. I can only assume by watching bits and pieces on the news, you surely thought the virus would be a temporary inconvenience in your most memorable senior year. Instead, it would turn out to be a wholesale cancellation of all the things that make a senior year special. My guess is the totality of this situation was becoming clear to you in that moment.
Realizing I had just delivered the news that confirms the last half of your senior year had been ruined, I struggled to find words that I could say to you to make it all better. But what can you say at that moment? How do you tell a young person that they’ve worked hard for the last thirteen years to reach this milestone, only to have something beyond their control (coronavirus) sneak in and take away what should have been some of the best memories of their life? Oh sure, it could be a lot worse; we all know that to be true. Nonetheless, it provides little solace to all the high school and college seniors in the Class of 2020. It wasn’t their fault, and it was in everyone’s best interest to take these necessary steps, and yet, it’s still hard on the students, their families, and even the faculty and staff that have shared in these times with these young men and women. Unfortunately, we can’t get this back, and as a parent, I feel helpless; I can only feel for you as I seek to embrace the silver lining.
When we spoke again, I told you that even though life’s sad at the moment, years from now this will be a part of your story. Something you tell your children about. I promised you that if you stay the course, these next few years immediately in front of you will become some of the best years of your life. As for your path, your goals in life, I reminded you of what best-selling author Mark Manson said, “The benefits of goals aren’t in achieving them, it’s that they give us direction and meaning.” I added one more thing, “Goals are what makes us continue to move forward.”
To you, your classmates, and all the other graduates of the Class of 2020, although the year didn’t end as we’d hoped, and because of that, you all share a common bond regardless of where you went to school. As you go forward in life, when you get the opportunity to help another member of this unique 2020 club, I recommend you do so. Perhaps, that will be how you each get back some of what you lost. Who knows, it could be life-changing once again.
Remember what you said, “If I had known the last day of school was really going to be the last day of school….” Let that be a lesson that from this time on you carry forward and let it help you appreciate each moment as it happens.
I love you son, and I’m very proud of you for what you’ve accomplished, and here’s to better days ahead.
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