Dear Class of 2020,
Last month was the Month of the Military Child, so given I've got four military kids I thought it was appropriate to send those of you who are graduating some advice.
My oldest son is a part of your graduating class. Like many high school seniors around the nation the coronavirus is denying him the opportunity to strut across a stage at graduation, rocking the stoles he’s earned like some academic Mr. T (look up Mr. T so you know who he is). Similarly, there will be no prom, no senior night game where he is recognized for playing four years on his school’s lacrosse team, and there will be no academic recognition ceremony. As his dad, it sucks because there is no end to this chapter.
I’ve watched our country respond to this pandemic. The sensational outpouring gushes all over, the deluge on social media, television, online, everywhere you look, pouring down and rushing into the sewers because it comes so fast, it has nowhere else to go. If you’re not careful, you can get washed away in a flash flood of sadness and pity.
“Experts” say the class of 2020 will never be the same. These pedigreed peeps state that you will be marked for the rest of your life, and that you will require therapy because this event has been intensely traumatizing. You are branded by this virus because for several months at the end of your high school life, the class of 2020 was asked to stay indoors, not go to school and you missed out on normal milestones of American teenage life.
I know high school and its many mile markers is important for you to develop into adults, but missing high school events is not the end of mankind. Class of 2020, you are not that fragile and you come from a species that has been walking around on the earth for at least 300,000 years. If your parents, teachers, coaches, counselors are showering you with pity instead of enabling you with tools you can use to cope, please tell them you are stronger than they believe and prove them wrong.
I did not go to my senior prom. I did not walk at my graduation and I can tell you my life has been full of memorable events that have stirred me in such ways that writing about them makes me warm with emotion. Watching my four kids enter this world was life changing and I have never felt so much love. Looking into the beautiful blue eyes of my wife as we stood at the altar and thinking, there isn’t a luckier person than me right now is something I reflect upon almost daily.
Setting foot on American soil again after having lived through a hellish year in Iraq and knowing I would never have to go back—golden. Feeling my baby daughter’s warm, soft breathing on my chest as she faded off into sleep, giving me peace that I wish would always envelope me, a peace I wish I could always carry; or carry her in my pocket, as I used to tell her. Walking on an empty beach hand and hand with one of my sons as the sun rose over the ocean, dolphins boiling up to the surface searching for breakfast just offshore, as we found two perfect sand dollars, one for him and one for me and as far as we were concerned, we were the only two people on the earth at that moment—just us and the pod. Watching one of my sons as he watched me pull a trout out of a Colorado stream as the sun fell and his almost reflexive grin when he gently stroked its slimy body. “He’s pretty. Wonder what he will taste like?” And the memory of my oldest son quietly playing catch with one of his coaches in the early morning. Native Americans played lacrosse to avoid war and make peace and watching the two of them in the misty field gave me a sense of tranquility. Truth is, the memories I do have of high school have long ago been painted over by more meaningful memories.
As humans we have a tendency to measure things to help us make comparisons especially when life throws something at us that we have never experienced before. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the comparisons have started to the Greatest Generation. Journalists and academics who are trying to gain traction in a particular demographic are saying that you, Class of 2020, are enduring similar sacrifices to the Greatest Generation. To date, worldwide, there have been 248,000 deaths from the coronavirus (as of May 4). The Greatest Generation lived in a world where 60-100 million died worldwide in extraordinarily violent ways. What we are experiencing is horrible, no doubt, and it will likely get worse, but it does not compare to what others who have come before us have endured. Missing prom does not equate to the killing of six million Jews. Missing your senior season does not compare to the Normandy landing. What you are enduring after two months with Netflix and smartphones cannot be compared to what people all over the globe endured for six years during World War II.
I know that much of this pity posturing isn’t due to you, it is caused by my generation, by the one below mine too, but I have faith in you guys. Life is about the choices you make and the how you respond to the circumstances that arise. You adapt to the environment; the environment does not adapt to you. If you’re cold, don’t you put on a jacket? Or do you sit there, freezing, and try to change the weather?
Your parents, as good as some of them are, haven’t prepared some of you for what is ahead. If you have parents who advocated for you all the time, reviewing your homework at every turn so you can maintain a certain GPA instead of letting you earn the grade your effort warrants, or when you don’t get the playing time that you think you deserve, they chew out the coach and remind them about how much better you are than the other players, or they take leadership roles in school organizations so they can try to influence things in your life. Any of that sound familiar? If your parents are like that and you’ve been succeeding, you might be in for a rude awakening when all is said and done. There will be nobody there helicoptering over you, making accommodations, clearing the path. This pandemic is a great opportunity for you to break their cycle of dysfunction and get them out of your way.
They mean well. I know they do, but their actions are stealing your ability to be resilient. If you do not suffer defeats and failures, you will never learn how to manage them. It is part of your emotional and psychological development. This pandemic is not the worst we’ve experienced as a species and it likely won’t be the worst thing until we finally kill the planet and we just pass into extinction. You didn’t ask for this pandemic no more than you asked for global warming, but you are inheriting a world full of problems. There is no way to sugarcoat that fact. None of it is your fault and the generations that came before you, mine included, are to blame.
I’ve got faith in you. I believe in you because youth are the eternal keepers of hope. I believe you will be the generation to solve global warming. I know you will be the generation that ends violence and social inequality in this country. If you don’t, then I am confident that you will be the generation that pours the foundation for the next generation to succeed. You are stronger than you know. You are tougher than you realize and being afraid is not a sign of weakness unless you allow it to immobilize you.
Class of 2020, shut off your phones, turn everything off and listen to yourself for a few minutes. Listen to your soul. It is telling you where to go, who to be, what to do. If you can’t hear it, go to places that will help you hear it. Remove the noise.
Victims are built, constructed by enabling people who wallow in defeat and enjoy basking in pity. Tragically bad things happen and many times bad things happen to good people. Resilient people feel disappointment, sadness, fear, anger and anguish. As human beings we will all hit low points in our lives. Not everything is rainbows and sunshine, but once we hit that low point, we have to have the ability to look at what is working in our favor. We have to tie a knot when we reach the end of our rope and hold on. But we can’t just hold on, we have to climb up, and we have to climb out.
Not going to prom, sucks. Dying from coronavirus is worse. Not having a graduation, sucks. Losing a family member to coronavirus is worse. Losing the rest of your school year, athletic season, whatever, especially when you are 17 or 18, sucks, but tomorrow, the sun will come up and you will be one day closer to living through this bullshit and you will look back on it and it will become one of the many things you as a human being endured to earn your right to live on this earth.
You may not be getting a diploma on a stage, but what you are getting is the keys to your future. Make it count. Make yourself proud.
(This article was first published on burbdad.com.)