To the Class of 2020 during the COVID19 Virus

I’ve been thinking about seniors recently, the class of 2020, the ones who were supposed to be finishing their academic study this year.

Here in Shenzhen, we have a host of kids who had all sorts of plans for these months. Proms, performances, senior trips, final exams, walking and getting diplomas… all the things that seniors do, and have done for years.

And this year, those things aren’t happening.

This year, the virus has brought everything to a grinding halt.

My students are devastated, and rightly so.

This isn’t the way this was supposed to go down. This isn’t right. It isn’t fair.

And if you are one of those seniors, you have every right to be disappointed. In fact, I would go even further, and say that you have every right to grieve.

You have had an incredibly important rite of passage that has been stripped away from you. Grief is an appropriate response.

What does it mean to grieve? I could give you a dictionary definition, but to me – as a person who lost a mother very recently – it means to feel the ache and the pain of loss as a very real and tangible thing. It means to think about what could have been – what should have been and is not – and to feel such strong emotions about it not being that way that it hurts. It physically hurts. In your body and soul and mind, it hurts.

And if this is how you are feeling, then it’s okay.

You didn’t ask for this. You wanted to finish strong. You wanted to run the race to the end and look back to see all the people who cheered you as you ran.

But now, you’re trying to finish the year in Zoom meetings.

It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to mourn what you’ve lost. It’s okay to allow yourself that.

This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Even though if things had been normal you would have been complaining to be in school right now, it’s where you should have been.

But I’d also encourage you to consider this.

You are the graduating class of opportunity.

Sure. Nobody else has experienced what you are experiencing. Nobody else has lost what you have lost. But at the same time, nobody else has experienced what you are experiencing. Nobody else has lost what you have lost.

If you had had a graduation ceremony, the guest speaker would have spoken platitudes about what the future held for you. They would have told you stories about success and failure and possibilities. You might have listened. You might have applied those stories to some aspect of your life.

But the virus has stripped that away.

The virus has given you a gift.

The virus has revealed what matters.

The virus has done this in a way that few graduation speakers could have effectively done.

What is most important to you right now? Since you’ve entered your stay-at-home time, what has been most important to you? What really matters? Yes, you’ve lost the senior year accoutrements, but at the end of the day, you’re probably more concerned about the health of your parents, your grandparents, the older people in your community.

People. Our close ones.

You have more perspective on what really matters than any other senior class in many, many years.

It may be hard to see right now. Maybe you’re in a stay-at-home situation and nobody in your family has the virus. Maybe you’re in a stay-at-home situation and you’ve lost your grandmother to the virus but can’t go to the funeral.

Here’s the thing. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste your experience. Don’t spend so much time mourning what you have lost that you miss what you will need to do next.

Nobody knows what is coming next, but the undeniable truth is that YOU are our next. You are going to inherit this mess that we, your moms and dads, have made, and you are going to have the opportunity to make it a less destructive mess.

So don’t waste it.

And I’m sorry if this sounds like a lame graduation speech.

But it’s true.

Class of 2020, you rock. You absolutely rock.

And nobody – no virus or person – can ever take that away from you.

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