Dear High School Seniors of America…

By now, many states across the country announced that due to COVID-19, schools would no longer be in session for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. For many students, the news came with thundering heartbreak, especially those in milestone years.

Many sixth graders learned that they would not take the traditional “clap out” final walk in their elementary school hallways. Eighth graders would not participate in a promotion ceremony, celebrating their journey to high school. College seniors would not hear “Pomp and Circumstance” while accepting their bachelor degrees.

But perhaps the most heart wrenching loss is knowing that a majority of our high school seniors would be deprived of a traditional high school graduation ceremony. The road to a high school graduation is thirteen years in the making, and for many of our students, it is an arduous journey filled with success, failure, struggle, stress, and changing hormones.

As the years progress and life colors our experiences and forces us to prioritize our memories, we tend to forget the significance of high school graduation. We brush it aside for even greater milestones: college graduation, our first job, a wedding, or even the birth of a child. As we become older, the memory of our high school graduation becomes more and more vague, and soon all we’re left with are snapshots in our minds and perhaps a funny story or two.

We simply forget why it’s such a milestone. The shutdown of schools made us all remember.

We remembered that for many high school seniors, graduation marks the final time they see their classmates for whatever reason: moving to college, joining the military, entering the workforce, or even possibly having to find a new place to call home. We remembered that for other seniors, this may be their first and final cap and gown ceremony. And then we remembered those who will be the first in their families to hear their name called, walk across a stage, shake a school official’s hand in one hand and receive a diploma in the other.

Although the announcement made districts come up with creative alternatives for live graduations for high school seniors – online ceremonies, late summer celebrations – our hearts collectively broke for the upcoming Class of 2020.

Dear High School Senior Class of 2020,

I am sorry you will not be able to experience it in person. The rush of walking, single file, in front of a sea of both familiar and strange faces. The goosebumps you feel when you hear the“Pomp and Circumstance” march. The speeches filled with cliched quotes ranging from everyone from Gandhi to Ferris Bueller, that will hit make your eyes roll in the back of your head. The feeling of hearing your name, moving forward, taking that diploma cover and moving that tassel from right to left. The excitement when you finally hear, “Congratulations, Class of 2020” and throwing that cap high into the air. 

I am sorry that you will not have a graduation ceremony.

You have every right to be angry, disheartened, and despondent over losing your graduation. It is a rite of passage that many of us take for granted. A milestone that marks the beginning of your adult journey, whether that journey takes you on to higher learning or to a vocation. It is your time to be celebrated, to close the chapter on this part of your life, and to embrace whatever life has in store for you. 

I am sorry that you will not have it, but know that I, along with every other person, will be celebrating you at the end of this school year. It’s no longer just your parent or your immediate family cheering for you. You have an entire nation that is ready to be your embarrassing family, crying at seeing you in your graduation cap and gown, cheering when your name is called in whatever capacity, and feeling beyond proud of how you endured these last three months.  

Make no mistake about it, you are not victims of your circumstances. You are fighters and survivors. You have learned resilience in the face of defeat, heartache, and pain. You have and will continue to thrive because you are the Class of 2020. 

Yes, the situation may have robbed you of a ceremony but know that it was not in vain: you will be a part of history. You will help change the course of education, technology, and traditions. You will know how to stand tall, even when life tries to push you down. 

Author A.A. Milne once wrote, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Class of 2020, you are all of these to not only those who love and support you, but to all of us. 

You are our heroes. 

Congratulations, Class of 2020. 

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