An open letter to the Class of 2020

I loved seeing all our local Jewish school graduates featured in last week’s TJP. Every single one is smiling happily, which I suppose is because these pictures were taken while people were still able to stand next to each other and had something to smile about. It is so different now. I’d like to dedicate this column to our community’s graduates of public and private but non-Jewish high schools, who may not have such cheerful photos to squirrel away in their memory books. So here is my message to all of them:

Well: Your big day has come and gone. Your long-awaited “Walk” across the auditorium stage never came to be. Those last-minute activities, the hugs and kisses and even tears you had counted on to carry with you into your various futures — none of them materialized. Instead, you were saddened and with good reason. Some of you were even angry. I understand. I share your sadness. But I’m urging you to take another look at what you do have rather than what you’ve lost. Open your own eyes now for a peek into a future filled with memories and stories to tell that no other high school graduates will ever equal.

About the several graduations I’ve had myself, I can say the symbolism, while great, often doesn’t actually live up to the hype. When you finally get to cross that stage to get your diploma and the handshake that goes with it, your heart is beating so loudly, and you are shaking so violently, that this long-awaited moment quickly becomes a dull blur: “Is that it? Is this all?” You could never anticipate the huge letdown that inevitably follows the big hoopla. “It’s all over? What happens next?”

Let me tell you: Life is what happens next! You’ll go forward to college, a job, a “gap year.” You’ll miss the old routines, but not as much as you’re imagining now. Your new life will offer possibilities that take your breath away. And in a short time, you’ll have to open your Yearbook to help you remember the classmates you thought you’d never forget. But nothing can ever dull the memory of this year’s “Walk-less” graduation!

In your future, you’ll be telling The Story of 2020 over and over: how you didn’t have your “Walk” because of a killing virus sweeping across the entire globe. Much sooner than you can possibly imagine, your own children will be asking about social distancing and wearing masks and what you did during those long days of enforced isolation. Only you, the Class of 2020, will be able to tell these stories.

I’ll advise you now: What you’ll be taking with you into your new lives is pandemic knowledge and experience. Someday you’ll be invited to your own children’s high school history classes to tell your personal stories, to be pelted with questions you’ll never need your yearbooks to answer. Your status will be forever unique. I know this seems so far away now, but I also know from personal experience how those years will be with you much sooner than you can possibly imagine. And then, when you’re asked, you’ll embellish the telling with your own memories, and not having that long-anticipated “Walk” will be one of the biggest ones. Only your Class of 2020 will have this opportunity: to relive being fully alive during a major event that affected the whole world.

So please, believe this: As difficult as these past weeks have been for you, they have already made you strong enough to face the unpleasant realities that are part of everyone’s future — and have already become a part of your life.

I wish I could have been the speaker at your graduation. I would have urged you to use this precious new knowledge wisely as you Walk your own individual Walks in all the years ahead. And may they be long, productive, joyous years for all of you!

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