My dear 2020 Graduates,
Oh, kiddos. Where do we even begin?
First, I want to say how much I love and adore you. I’ve known many of you since you were 12-years-old, bouncing around our classroom for forty-five minutes each day, reading, thinking, and laughing with me. You indulged me when I made funny voices during read aloud and participated (albeit some of you wearily) when I made you go outside to try the “Unity clap” we learned about. I was so happy when I got to have you as students again a few years later. You made me so happy to be back in the classroom. You reminded me then (and now) why I love being a teacher.
Second, I want to tell you how sorry I am.
I’m so sorry all the traditions you’ve been looking forward to for years– the senior breakfast, senior Aloha, graduation and learning the waltz– are not happening as planned. I know that schools are doing their best to get creative– virtual graduations and events– but I empathize and sympathize with you when your heart cries out, “That’s not the same.” You’re right. It’s not the same. It’s not fair. I remember seeing your faces at last year’s graduation, watching everyone give speeches and walk down and since and knowing you were thinking, Next year, next year this will be us!
And my heart breaks, because while some of us are mourning the postponement of things, you’re mourning a moment, a milestone, a set of memories that you won’t get to have the way you’d been planning for 13 years.
So, that sucks. I won’t sugarcoat it for you. It’s really upsetting, and all the frustration and sadness and disappointment you’re feeling right now are warranted. I hope you let yourself feel them. If you want to lie in a puddle in your bed and cry while you listen to sad music, you should do that for a little bit. If you want to punch a pillow or write an angry letter to the Coronavirus where your curse it out for ruining your plans, that’s okay too. These are all things I have done in the past month, to be honest, so you should feel no shame in doing the same. I know how much better letting out your feelings can make you feel.
Here’s what else I know: you are some of the most brilliant, powerful, and innovative students I have ever met. You use the technology and media at your disposal to raise your voices and share your ideas. You’re publishing books. You’re coding programs to help your community. You’re expressing yourselves. You’re creating and sharing funny images (or “memes,” as you all say) to brighten each other’s day. Now, you might be laughing at this last statement– how is meme-making a virtue?
Well, if you remember Act 2, Scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet (which I’m almost sure you don’t), Friar Lawrence says that, “Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied, and vice sometime by action dignified.” This perfectly exemplifies something you all do quite well: you take things that could be wrong and make them into something dignified and great.
You have a knack for making the best of bad situations– a difficult news cycle, an election that didn’t go as you hoped— you have risen to the occasion and shown that your bravery outshines any doubts you had about yourself. You are willing to do the hard things. When the world began difficult conversations about race and equity, you jumped right in, questioning the world around you and having critical discussions with each other.
TL;dr, you are uniquely set up to handle this situation with creativity, resilience and grace. It’s not fair that this burden has been placed on you, but I fully believe in. your capabilities to move through this situation. You will come out on the other side, and damn, what a story you’ll have to tell.
What will that creativity look like? I don’t know. Maybe you’ll write something brilliant about this, maybe you’ll work with each other to create a once-in-a-lifetime set of memories to commemorate your hard work, maybe you’ll devise a scheme to allow you to celebrate (safely) in a way none of us has imagined. Either way, I hope that when you look back on this time in your lives, it will be tinged with nostalgia and disappoint, yes, but perhaps you will also be proud of how you all moved forward with love and caring for each other.
Because, really, that’s what all the things you’re missing out on are– expressions of deep love, gratitude, and affection for each other. You have laughed, cried, and learned with each other for years. You’ve sweated in classrooms during tests, celebrated your victories, dated each other (despite my pleas for you not to), and made it through the drama. These were opportunities to put all of it behind you, look back at it, and celebrate that it made you into the marvelous humans you are today.
There is no one way to express those things, though. The traditions and rituals we have constructed to do so can be powerful, yes, but ultimately you decide how you will express those things. At the end of the year, your love for each other is what matters. Your appreciation for each other and everyone who supported you on that journey is what shines through. You still have the chance to give each other all the love and appreciation you were planning to. You don’t need to change the content, you just need to rethink the method. I know you will look through the muck and mire of this situation and still be able to give each other that support and care. And I’m already inspired by it.
Finally, I want to say thank you. I won’t get to see you at graduation, which does in fact break my heart, as I was so excited to watch you all be celebrated in the way you deserve. So, in the best way I can, I want to say thank you. Thank you for being awesome and fun and inspiring and silly and brilliant and all the other adjectives I can’t list right. now. You not only made me a better teacher, but you made me a better person. I’m eternally grateful I got to spend a short chunk of your life working with you. I am so excited to see where you go next.
Remember, I’m only an email or message away. And remember, above all else, that you are loved.