Dear Class of 2020,
I see you. I am proud of you. We know that the last couple of months have featured an unprecedented amount of loss on multiple levels globally. Yet, through the quarantining, social distancing, endless Zoom sessions, increasingly disturbing news and of course, the very real struggle of simply taking care of yourself amidst a global pandemic, you made it. I know that none of this is ideal. All of it is tragic on multiple levels. All of it is frustrating. All of it is terrifyingly confusing, multiplied tenfold by the joy you should feel, perhaps want to feel, but maybe can’t fully embrace due to the gravity of the present moment. But I hope you feel loved & appreciated. I hope you can one day fully celebrate your accomplishment in a manner of your choosing, unfettered by the need to be socially distant from those who’ve been your biggest cheerleaders and just want to love on you.
I have students, relatives, colleagues and friends who are coping with the reality that yes, they are still passing an important milestone, but the ceremonial acknowledgment of that rite of passage for so many has been rightfully delayed due to, as so many emails and announcements have dubbed, “these unprecedented times.” It’s natural to grieve this tangible loss and I hope you’re able to allow yourself these feelings in spite of the noise of stressful current events. I hope that in quiet moments, you find peace in the satisfaction of what you’ve achieved, the hurdles you’ve overcome to get here, the naysayers you’ve proven wrong, and most importantly, those you’ll undoubtedly inspire later. Your achievement matters to me and many others, even as the expression of that “mattering” may seem perfunctory at best; a bandaid to assuage a wound that gets a pinch of salt sprinkled into it with every well-intentioned but ill-advised “here’s my old graduation picture…we’re in this together…I’m so sorry” social media post. We may be “in this together,” but I’m sure your pain feels no less personal.
There are also many of you who may not be graduating yet, but have nevertheless seen your timelines thrown into uncertainty. If you’re a graduate student, maybe you were in the middle of research for your thesis and won’t be able to continue until schools are re-opened, whenever that happens. Maybe you’re an undergrad who isn’t sure whether the price of tuition will still be worth the uncertainty of your college experience. Perhaps you’re a K-12 student who is grieving the missed social time that school provides as much as the learning. I have a daughter in preschool who’s already had trouble grappling with the reality that she isn’t seeing, touching, or sharing with her friends for an extended amount of time. I can’t imagine how that must feel for you high school and college seniors in particular, robbed of the opportunity to properly cherish those last moments together with your peers before launching into the different orbits of the worlds you were preparing to enter; worlds that are already markedly different than they were before COVID-19 rocked them.
I have no answers. I have no suggestions. All I have is the ability to hold space for you. Yes, people are dying and losing jobs and the future you imagined for yourself doesn’t seem as likely as it might’ve seemed even four months ago, but none of this means you can’t grieve what you’ve also lost. While we are all grieving over lives, opportunities, and resources that became casualties of COVID-19, it’s important to remember that the moments you are specifically mourning have an impact, too.
I’m sure you’ve been urged to see the silver lining, to think about what you can learn from this – and I’m sure you will – but it’s unfair to expect that of you without allowing you space to sit in the amalgamation of emotions that are pulling at you in this time. It’s unfair to expect you to force yourself to move to the next chapter while glossing over the missing last transitional paragraph from the previous one.
So yes, I do hope this letter finds you well but I understand that “well” is subjective and it’s quite possible that you are unwell right now. Part of wellness means feeling whole, and it’s difficult to accomplish this without the sense of collective closure or finality to a process that you’ve committed years of your life towards conquering. So as you are grappling with this, I hope you find the wherewithal to be particularly kind to yourself in this chapter of your journey. Life has given you lemons, but it’s okay to sit with the sourness before turning them into lemonade.
Congratulations and may an abundance of joy find you,
C. Emmanuel Little, PhD
© 2020 C. Emmanuel Little