Class of 2020, welcome to your virtual commencement address. Please mute your microphones.
You don’t need me to tell you that the Class of 2020 is like no other. A world locked down over a virus caused your senior year to go off the rails.
Some of you were probably happy to get out of classes and in-person tests, but you were denied the reward that every other senior before you received for faithfully attending school for so many years – the joy of the final countdown to graduation.
I feel badly that you missed your final days of wrapping up. There is a genuine period of growth in the final few weeks of high school when you realize that you are no longer going to be in high school anymore. Things around you begin to look and feel different.
People in authority start appearing more like regular people. You start feeling more grownup. What’s going on outside the classroom seems more real than what happens in it. The last ride on the bus. The last lunch in the cafeteria. The last time at a locker. You notice that you are outgrowing school and moving on to bigger and better things, like college or a job.
Oh, yeah. About those colleges and jobs. The Class of 2020 is rather screwed. No one is working right now. Unemployment is higher than it has ever been, and there is no guarantee that businesses will come roaring back to hire anyone anytime soon.
Your chances of a good summer job to save and prepare for college are slim. Unless you want to do deliveries or restock shelves, your choices are pretty limited.
Of course, your college might not be there in the fall, or it might not be as you’d expect. Colleges are offering virtual semesters. Many seniors are choosing to take time off and defer the start of their college educations. College is more than just classes; it is a unique time to be closely involved with your own generation. Dorm life can’t be replicated virtually from home.
So, no jobs and no college. Add to that you are living under a failing political system, social inequality is getting worse, and the environment is dramatically shifting.
It’s really pretty lousy, and doesn’t really put you in the mood for celebrating your graduation, eh? “What did we do this all for?” “I suffered through 7th grade for this? Really?”
Well, I’m here to cheer you and let you know that you are, in fact, quite lucky.
The system is broken. The old rules no longer apply. You aren’t stuck following a rote path. That path is eroding. That’s a good thing. That old path wasn’t a very good one.
You have permission to try new things and go in new directions. That is the tricky part, though. If you have no bearings, in which direction should you go?
You can do something no other graduating class has had the luxury do – stop and pause. Think about things.
The answers aren’t on a smart phone or tablet. You won’t find them there. You won’t find answers binge-watching a streaming series or by posting updates to social media. That is all distraction. You’ll need to look beyond.
You’ll also need one another, and that’s why not having graduation and not having a normal time in college could be a problem. When will your generation meet one another again?
To the Class of 2020, you are doomed more than any other before you. May you make the most of it!