Column: For high school seniors graduating during a pandemic

Betsy Morris [Courtesy]

BACK BAY — For our graduating seniors:

This is a unique time in history in which the entire world is connected by uncertainty and worry. We are all adjusting to an altered lifestyle, and it feels like we have all lost things important and dear to us. We hope that feeling is temporary.

There is one group among us, however, that deserves a special tribute. Our high school seniors — the Class of 2020. 

How exciting it was on Wednesday, Jan. 1, when we entered a new decade–the decade of your graduation year. Who would have thought that in less than three months we would be swept up in a pandemic?  

I want you to know that we feel your frustration and we acknowledge the uncertainty and disappointment that has replaced the hope and excitement of the final months of your senior year.  

Normally, about this time, teachers are used to battling a condition known as “senioritis.”  As much as we complain about that “illness” over the years, rest assured we would all welcome it now. I think we teachers fight against it, but tolerate it, because we remember what these months felt like all those years ago.  

This is a special, precious time in your lives. Your plans for your futures are being finalized – you are committing to colleges, the military or the workforce. You are secure in the knowledge you will pass the class and graduate.

So you let things slide, and, to some extent, we let you slide into a few months of freedom.  Because we know you will enter the world of adults after you graduate. A world where your focus shifts away from your needs.  

Please know I am not suggesting you are self-centered. You have shown so much compassion for others. By listening to your discussions, I know you are not only aware that we are all connected. You embrace it.

What I am referring to is a subtle shift that happens when you move from child to adult.  One of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck, says it best: “When you’re a child you’re the center of everything. Everything happens for you … but when you grow up … things go out of you to others and come in from other people.”  

If this virus is teaching us one thing, it is that this exchange from person to person is, quite literally, all too real. While right now we are focused on limiting that exchange physically, the sacrifices you all are making by missing out on some of your quality moments are beautiful, generous and even life-saving.

Please remember that, to quote a line from Hamilton, “History has its eyes on you.” Your actions and choices during this time will forever define your generation.

That being said, missed moments stink. Uncertainty stinks. I want you to know that we understand all the missed opportunities you have lost or are now worried about losing – competitive seasons, college visits, senior trips, proms, celebrations and simple moments spent with friends before you all start your walks down different paths. 

Whether you are missing the culmination of hours of work and practice in the form of championship games and performances or the start of what would have been your last season with an activity, it’s a huge loss, and it isn’t something you can get back.  

It’s your senior year – the thing that carried you through the awkward moments of freshman year, the uncertainty of sophomore year and the pressure of junior year. You were in sight of the finish line, and then life pushed the pause button. I want you to know we see this. We understand your frustration and loss.  

I’ve seen a few open letters to seniors, and someone pointed out you all were born in the year of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and you are entering adulthood in the year of a pandemic. You’re the first generation to grow up through the reality of school shootings.

But here’s what is also true for the class of 2020: you have lived your entire lives with the understanding that the actions of a few can change the lives of many.

I think it’s what inspires you to take hold of this world and make us better. You have lived your lives in two worlds – the digital world and the real world – and you can navigate them both with confidence and ease.

I know you all will find a way around this. You are terrific at finding new paths when you hit the roadblocks in your way. I’m sorry you all must enter that adult world a few months too early, but I know we will be better for having you in it with us.

I also share some advice offered by another teacher – do what you do best. Network.

For once, we won’t tell you to get off your phones. Play some online games, start a new TikTok dance (please make “Renegade” fade away), FaceTime, Snapchat, do whatever you do to stay connected to each other. It’s another thing you guys do better than any other generation.  

And to the underclassmen, embrace the opportunities and cherish the moments when it’s time for your senior year.  

The Class of 2020 is being reminded that the journey is more important than the destination. They also are reminding you that you never know when and how your journeys may end. Don’t take anything for granted.

Until we meet again.

Much love,

Mrs. Morris.

Morris, who lives in Back Bay, teaches advanced placement English and public speaking at Kellam High School.

© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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One thought on “Column: For high school seniors graduating during a pandemic

  1. Beautifully stated! Thanks for giving our future the encouragement and love they need right now. ❤️

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