I won’t mince words with you. Coronavirus stole my son’s high school graduation from him and it sucks. But it also stole graduation from us as his parents, from his friends and their families, and from their amazing teachers. What in the actual world, people?! I mean, how exactly are we supposed to react to this craziness? How are we even supposed to feel when one of life’s first huge milestone’s is ripped away? And how in the world are we, the parents of the Class of 2020, supposed to guide our children through a scenario we couldn’t have imagined just a few short weeks ago?
As the saying goes, though, we’re all in this together, friends! (Separately, of course.) Even if our kids are responding to this upheaval in different ways; and even if we parents are, too. That’s perfectly natural, I think! And it can be confusing as all get out. But the last thing I want to come out of this crazy situation is a bunch of regret about how my family handled this disappointment. So, to that end, and with some help from the amazing Dr. MaryRuth Hackett, I’ve got a few thoughts for parents of seniors to consider. It’s my hope that these thoughts help both the parents and the students of this uniquely amazing Class of 2020.
First, hold on to perspective.
This goes for the parents and the kids, friends. Yes, graduation is a huge deal and it’s something we’ve all been working towards for 13 years. And yes, watching my son walk across the stage, capped and gowned, is something I have been looking forward to since the day he was born, practically! But would we trade someone’s health – or life, even! – for the experience? I don’t think so.
It kills me that this class is missing out on so many of the “lasts” they’ve been looking forward to. Like MaryRuth said in an IG post the other day, though, “Pulling out of their circles of friends and activities is bitter, but they have sort of emotionally been prepping to do that all year.” We’ve all known the time to say goodbye would come. We just didn’t think it would happen so soon or so suddenly.
Life will move on, though, you know? They will (God-willing) get to start college in the fall. They will still get their diplomas (probably in the mail), party with their friends (at the acceptable time, of course), and be lauded by family and friends. And, most importantly, we’ll still get the opportunity to shower them with all the love and praise and pride they deserve. Nothing can change that.
Second, think about their teachers.
My heart just hurts for our kids’ teachers right now. I think about the band and chorus directors, the coaches and counselors who have been teacher and friend and substitute parent to our kids for the last 4 years. They have invested so much of themselves into the class of 2020 and, for the most part, have gotten their big send-offs just…taken away. They won’t get the big goodbyes they’ve planned, either. I can’t imagine the pain and frustration good teachers are experiencing right now.
Third, respond, don’t project, and help them process.
Some kids are going to be flat out devastated to have to miss these milestone events. Some, though, are going to be sad or angry for a while and then move on. Others will make jokes and deflect their emotions. And all of these reactions are perfectly OK! What’s not OK, though, is for us to badger our kids with how we feel about it all.
I’ve really been trying to take my cues on how to respond to all of this mess from my son’s behavior. It’s really important, I think, to let our kids decide just how upset they should be about this. It is their graduation, after all! Not ours. That’s not to say I didn’t shed a few tears in front of our son when the announcement was made. Of course I did! It’s good for our kids to see that we care enough to be sad for them. Certainly, it can be difficult if our reaction is drastically different from that of our child’s. But we can’t make it all about us and our feelings, as much as we might want to.
And here’s another note from MaryRuth — “Encourage your teens to do something to process their emotions, not mask them. (E)xercise, journaling, zoom calls with friends…can all help process emotions.”
Fourth, keep the kids engaged and productive.
Yeah, I get it. It seems like adding insult to injury to have these kids keep working on schoolwork when “they won’t get to graduate.” (Side note: they will actually graduate from high school even without a graduation ceremony.) But the old adage that idle hands are the devil’s playground works for minds, too.
We need to encourage our students to keep working on their classwork, if that’s being required. Think of the character-building tenacity and perseverance they’ll learn in addition to their calculus! Encourage them to keep their hands busy with projects that excite them or help someone else. My son, who plans to study engineering, has been taking apart old stuff and putting new stuff together. Maybe your child likes to craft or sew and could help make masks for healthcare workers. These kids can still practice their instruments, their vocal pieces, their dances, and their athletics. There really are all kinds of options of things that will engage our kids positively and productively, both physically and emotionally.
Lastly, look ahead. Class of 2020 is gonna move mountains!
Let’s not forget, friends. The class of 2020 was born either right before or right after the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001. Now, they’re the class who will have to learn to move on in courage without any real closure. These are some amazing, intelligent, inventive, and resilient young adults!
Let’s help them look ahead while letting them mourn the present. Let’s all be grateful as we grieve. And let’s always remember to pray with them and for them. As their parents, we know that their life doesn’t end with the cancellation of graduation. Let’s help these young men and women focus on the possibility and promise of the coming years. With a history like theirs, how can it be anything but noteworthy?