Dear Class of 2020 – An Open Letter to Graduates

Lisa R. Parker

Dear Class of 2020:

I’ve seen the Facebook challenge to post our senior pictures in support of you, but honestly don’t see how that will comfort you. To me, it seems the exact opposite. It feels like we’re putting it in your face that we got to have this experience, and you didn’t. I’d like to offer you something that I hope will plant seeds of inspiration for the future.

I’m sorry you’re missing out on the events and rights-of-passage. It sucks that you won’t get to have experiences that are considered hallmarks of “growing up,” like the prom, walking graduation ceremonies, senior skip days, senior trips, and whatever other traditions are given to seniors in your school. What sucks just as much is that you’re missing the experiences of school for the last time: having lunch with your friends, those final projects and classroom days, and time with teachers and fellow students that you didn’t know you were seeing for the last time when life was abruptly interrupted by coronavirus in March.

I’ve thought many times of how devastating this would have been for me, especially if it happened my final semester before graduating college. That was one of the happiest times of my life. I got engaged over spring break, I was working on an independent research study that eventually led to qualifying me for the job I have now, I enjoyed all of my classes, I reconnected with an old friend, and I met my goal of achieving a 4.0 GPA. It would have been devastating if they told me not to come back from spring break. My entire life would have changed. No doubt, yours has as a result of this pandemic.

There’s not much comfort to offer you. Perhaps high school seniors who are heading to college, or undergraduates who are heading to grad school will reclaim some of these experiences in a few years. I went to a semi-formal ball my sophomore year of college that was tons more fun and much better than my high school prom – but at least I had a prom to compare it to. You’re missing experiences that can’t be replaced or given back to you, because there’s no way to go back in time and reclaim what you’ve missed, through choice or circumstance. I’m sorry.

This is a hard lesson to learn so early in life, and in a rather extreme way. I think COVID-19 has taught every human being on Earth that we are not in control of everything, and circumstances can happen that will derail our best laid intentions and plans. Those are usually lessons that come later in life, through personal things like unexpected changes in health, family, relationships, jobs, or finances. This is one of two reasons why I believe we all have an identity crisis in our 40’s. We’re disappointed that the life plans we made in our 20’s hasn’t worked out as we expected. Reconciling who we are against who we hoped to be is a matter of knowing two things: that the unexpected will happen to force us off track (as you’re learning now), and that we all want to be more than we are, when the truth is that all we are is enough.

Sadly, you’re learning the first lesson before you even have that diploma or degree in hand. Life will kick you around, and there’s nothing you can do about it but adapt, adjust, strengthen to stand to the challenge, and take what wisdom and opportunities you can from it. The good news is that you can trust in the Lord not only to see you through, but to work even this tragedy to your good in the end. The trick is standing to the end, and we aren’t there yet. We’re all muddling through this chaotic mess and praying for better days around the next corner.

The second lesson is one that you have to learn for yourself. In fact, I’m 44 years old, and I’m just now “getting it” after life kicking me around for about a decade until I finally grew up and learned that there were things in myself that I needed to work out in order to reach my full potential. That is, in fact, a lifelong challenge. There will always be things we need to learn, do, fix, adjust to, and mature into. It doesn’t mean there’s a flaw in your character. It means you’re human, just like everybody else on the planet. Just remember that all you are and all you have is enough. The Lord will give you what you need as you move through life, and will work things out to have you where you need to be. You may not always like it, but you’re being given the best and just have to accept whatever it takes to be your best. Life does hurt sometimes, but it ebbs and flows. All things pass. Know the challenges will give way to better days, and enjoy the better days while you have them. The good news is that you have eternity with Christ, so it’s not like you’ll really run out of time. Don’t get in a hurry or rush. Just experience life where you are, enjoy your blessings, and take your lessons with humility and courage.

We’re all missing life experiences. It’s why we’re all so anxious, fidgety, angry, moody, and depressed. Nobody knows what to make of this mess, or what the Lord is trying to work out in us. But missing the milestones are the worst. It feels like being cheated, and it feels personal. It isn’t. You aren’t being punished. None of us are. For you, it’s awful timing – and unfortunately, that does happen in life. I do pray that it leads you on a better path than you anticipated, and know that you will have the light of other experiences shining before you. You can’t get these back, but you can’t miss them all, either. The Lord will give you beauty for these ashes. Just stand firm, and keep the faith.

No, I won’t post my senior picture. You don’t need that. What you need are prayers and support for strength to see you though this crisis – just like the rest of us.

Best wishes to you in the future. You deserve it!



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