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An open letter to the graduating Class of 2020

To the Graduating Class of 2020,

It seems that every high school graduation I have attended has included a speaker making sweeping statements such as “What a long strange trip it’s been” or quoting Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.” In 2020, I agree with the first statement and am uncertain how to respond to the second. Six months ago, the expectation was that graduation would be a time to gather and celebrate with friends and families. With high school behind you, the next chapter of your life – college for some, different adventures for others – would begin in a few short months. However, COVID-19 turned the world upside down. Bedrooms became classrooms, and lunch with friends became FaceTime conversations with sandwiches. But time moves on, and we have arrived at this moment of closure and change.

The lack of a traditional graduation is a disappointment for students and families alike. It’s alright to acknowledge the frustration of not being able to don cap and gown and receive our degree. For many, graduation and a diploma is the end product of four years of work. So, to be told that we’ve crossed the finish line of the marathon but that there will be no ceremony to celebrate the accomplishment seems anticlimactic and unfair. But the lack of a formal graduation ceremony does not diminish the achievement. A degree earned is not devalued by the absence of celebration. And that same degree can never be taken away, not even by coronavirus.

As for what happens next, none of us is totally sure. College and the future may look very different than we anticipated it would a year ago. College classes may continue to be held online for the next semester or maybe even year. Moves to different cities or states may be delayed. And even if we’re able to make the move to a new location, there is a lingering uncertainty of whether we might face another similar situation in the future, forcing all of us to come back. Leaving home, which can be a challenging transition in the best of circumstances, may even be a source of increased anxiety due to the unknowns of dorm living in the wake of a global pandemic.

Slow down.

Be not afraid.

Have hope.

The pandemic, like many other hardships in our lives, won’t last forever. And while things may never be exactly the same as they were before COVID-19, the future won’t be unrecognizable to us. The next chapter in our lives has not been canceled. Perhaps it will begin slightly later than we’d anticipated, or maybe it will occur in a series of smaller, incremental steps. You will not be stuck in limbo forever.

With the stress and chaos of the pandemic, it’s easy to focus on the things that aren’t going as planned. We tend to get frustrated when real life doesn’t match the way we’d imagined things would be. Don’t get stuck spending too much time focusing on the things that aren’t there. If we allow ourselves to do that, we forget to appreciate the good that is in front of us. Remember, despite the long strange trip of the last few months, God will still lead you to amazing places. We just need to try to be patient and remember that all things occur in His time.

In Christ,

Michael Horne

Horne is director of clinical services for diocesan Catholic Charities.

Find out more

To make a teletherapy appointment with a Catholic Charities counselor, call 703/859-3147 or 703/447-9402.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020