A Letter to Every High School Senior (From a High School Senior) in the Midst of a Pandemic

Dear High School Senior,

I know you because I am you.

Before you read anything more, I want you to know this: I am experiencing the same pain, uncertainty, and confusion that you are right now. Whether we’ve met or not, we’ve grown up together in a way. We’re at the same point in our lives right now, me and you. And we are united in the fact that our senior year hasn’t remotely gone as planned.

Do you remember all those years ago, back in 3rd or 4th grade, when we counted the years to graduation? We worked out the mental math with our classmates to determine that we were the Class of 2020. And we considered it a blessing, a fabulous stroke of luck that we were members of The Coolest Graduation Year of All Time.

Now the world pities us. Pretty ironic how that worked out, right?

Do you remember how far away it all seemed back then?

One of my most vivid memories from Kindergarten was when my class would line up single-file and walk down to the lunchroom every day. On the way, we would briefly pass by the “big kids” in the hallway. The high schoolers towered above me, and I would gaze up at them with awestruck eyes. Shaking my head, I told myself I would never be that old, not for a long, long time. It seemed like lightyears away, rather than a matter of a few short years.

We denied the inevitable proximity of the future and dreamed of the years to come. Wide-eyed with wonder, we watched those who went before us and imagined what our own high school years would hold.

More than anything, we dreamed of our senior year. We told ourselves that that would be the year we ruled the school. The culmination of years of stressing and struggling.

We anxiously anticipated cheering under the lights, in the front row of the student section at Friday-night football games, chanting and hollering until our throats were sore. Of being the stars of our sports teams, marching bands, drama productions — finally in the role of leadership after years of tireless effort. Of clutching the arms of our sweethearts on prom night, wearing the perfect dress (or tux) with every hair and eyelash in place.

Most of all, we dreamt of the day when we would get to sit next to all of our best friends since childhood, clad in a cap and gown, and get to finally say, “We made it.” We would get to hear our name called and walk across the stage to accept the diploma that we worked thirteen years for.

And in that moment, it would all be worth it. All of the tears, all of the nights spent studying until midnight, all of the mornings spent prying our eyes open to stay awake in class, and all of the hours agonizing over Calculus problems and research papers.

If you’re anything like me, this senior year has felt like a dream. After years of striving, we have finally arrived. This year, we’ve cherished the hard-earned spotlight and squeezed all of the joy out of what little of high school we have remaining.

Up until a few weeks ago, we were on cloud nine, living our senior dream. We were untroubled, unchallenged, and unstoppable.

And then, like a clap of thunder jarring us back to reality, we woke up. Our picture-perfect dream was cut too short, and we have been left in the chill of midnight, confused and disheartened.

We were in the home stretch of this marathon called high school. But just as we rounded the corner to meet the finish line, the race got called off.

We have been forced from our schools and our extracurricular teams. Rather than spending our last couple of months surrounded by friends and teachers, we have been banished to the solitude of our own homes. The very nature of the virus itself demands isolation: social distancing, self-quarantine, six feet of separation at all times. It’s no wonder we feel so alone.

The question of a return to normalcy is no longer when, but if. We don’t know if we will be able attend our senior proms or even walk across the stage at graduation. We may have had our last day of high school without even realizing it.

Here’s what I want to tell you, high school senior: You are allowed to be upset. You are allowed the mourn the loss of your senior year. You have been robbed due to factors totally outside of your control.

I felt sharply the sting of a senior year stopped in its tracks. I spent days wallowing in self pity, feeling sorry for myself and grieving the missed opportunities I worked so hard for. My sadness was warranted, and it was necessary. But it taught me something valuable, something that every high school senior feeling the emotions that I am feeling needs to hear right now.

Here’s the deal: Our lives have been uprooted by no fault of our own. And to be honest, it really sucks. Each one of us is at a crossroads right now, and we must choose the path to take. We can either continue down the dark road of self pity and waste these weeks ahead, or we can rise up from the present circumstances and persevere toward a brighter future.

I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna choose to make the most of these days stuck at home. I didn’t plan for them, I wouldn’t wish for them, but I’ve resolved to use them for good nonetheless. I challenge you to do the same.

I have three points I want to make to you, high school senior, about what can be gained from this entire ordeal.

First, this time at home with family can be a blessing if you choose to use it. In a matter of months, most of us will be moving out of the house we grew up in, off to college or to enter the workforce. For eighteen years, many of us haven’t gone more than a couple of days without seeing our parents, siblings, and pets. Soon enough, we won’t be seeing them for weeks or months at a time.

My first challenge to you is the cherish this time with family. Even when you’ve all gone stir-crazy. Even when you feel like you’ll explode if you have to spend one more minute together. Especially then.

Don’t waste this time. Make the most of it and make memories with your family that you can cherish for the rest of your life. Join in on the family movie night. Stay up until midnight talking with your sister. Take your dog for a walk around town. Don’t trade precious time spent with family for hours spent locked in your room, scrolling through Tik Tok.

I want to acknowledge that some of you may not have the best home life. If that is you, reach out to the life-giving people in your life for support. Hold on tight to your friends and mentors.

Second, the ancient philosopher Seneca the Younger once said, “Time is the one thing that is given to everyone in equal measure.” His words are simple but true: Each of us gets 24 hours each day. It’s up to us how we use it.

If you’re anything like me, time is always a product in short supply. My life feels like a constant race against the clock. I get so caught up in accomplishing the things I have to do, I never feel like I have time to do the things I want to do. Yet now, our lives have been unexpectedly halted, and we are left with a seemingly-endless amount of time at our disposal.

I challenge you to not waste this time. Yes, you can use it to relax and have fun, but also use it to grow yourself. Pursue a new skill. Read that book you’ve always wanted to read. Learn a new instrument or language. Put genuine effort into your schoolwork, whether you’re required to complete it or not.

Finally, I challenge you to view this pandemic as what it is: a learning opportunity. If this situation has taught me anything it’s that we seem to carry on with our lives without a care in the world until we are completely stopped in our tracks.

Learn a valuable lesson here: Time is limited, and nothing in life in promised. And once this whole coronavirus craze is over and we’ve moved on with our lives, don’t forget it. Make the most of every second you are given. Know that no tomorrow is ever guaranteed.

As challenging as coming to terms with these circumstances has been for us as high school seniors, remember to maintain perspective on the issue. Thousands of people around the world are sick and dying. Thousands more have lost their jobs or are mourning the loss of their loved ones. Though it doesn’t minimize your heartbreak and your struggle, remember that the world is struggling alongside us. None of us is in this alone.

The night that I learned of my school’s four-week cancellation, my mom showed me a Facebook post that brought pride to my heart. The post recognized this year’s high school seniors for all that we have experienced in our eighteen short years.

We entered this world in the shadow of 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in United States history. And now we will graduate high school in the midst of the pandemic of the century.

Class of 2020, we are still in our youth, yet we have already experienced terrifying turmoil and great unrest. We have been beaten down and shoved to the side by this unforgiving world. We have felt discouraged, disparaged, and disheartened by the suffering and darkness that seems to surround us.

Yet we have not crumbled under pressure or succumbed to the merciless waves. Instead, we have risen from the adversity that taunted us and threatened to drag us down.

We will persist. We will persevere. We will overcome.

Class of 2020, we are nothing if not resilient.

Sincerely,

A High School Senior

11 thoughts on “A Letter to Every High School Senior (From a High School Senior) in the Midst of a Pandemic

  1. WOW! So well written, dear Lydia. Here’s to being such a wonderful example of fortitude in the face of adversity. Love you. Aunt Deb

  2. Lydia, thank you for this. As the mother of a senior in high school, I am close to tears after reading your words. I appreciate your wisdom and encouragement to your fellow seniors to trust that there is so much good ahead, though this time is so hard, so disappointing. I also appreciate your sensitivity–your willingness to feel all these emotions and not ignore them. You are a tremendous blessing of strength and hope and perseverance now. Yes, may the class of 2020 know they are resilient. Bless you.

    • Jennifer, thank you so much for your kind words. I can only imagine how hard this is for you as a mother, and I hope you are able to share these words with your senior. You are so right: There is so, so much good ahead — and a shining light at the end of this dark tunnel we have found ourselves in. Bless you!

  3. Dearest Lydia, I think Resilient is *your* middle name; well, maybe courage, creativity, innovation, and encouragement should be included as well. I am so sorry for this sad turn of events in your one, brilliant life and in the lives of all your friends and classmates. I was quite literally just thinking of you yesterday, pondering over your graduation, wondering what the school’s (or perhaps the governor of Iowa’s) decision would be, come June (which is, I presume, when you graduate). Oh the joy of that–your name in the printed program, the commencement speeches by the principal and valedictorian, the caps and gowns, the Pomp and Circumstance, the rows of students merging into one, long, triumphant line approaching, your name singly called, then mounting the stairs to the platform, the extended hand, the receiving of that precious “sheepskin,” the congratulatory handshake of the principal, the transferring of your tassel from right to left in one proud sweep, basking in the light of your parents’, grandparents’, and friends’ warm smiles and loud cheers, the basking in all your accomplishments to date, and the exiting the platform, excitedly entering the next new season of your life! I can only imagine your disappointment and lament. Wow. I don’t know how I would have handled something like this back “then.” You are right to feel what you feel and to share your sorrow with others. This really does suck, honey. I’m so sorry, and I can’t tell you how much! But I couldn’t be prouder of you at this moment, than if I sat smack-dab in a ringside graduation chair in your school auditorium. Because you are resilient, because you see with the eyes of faith, you know that your future now and your future forever rests in the hands of a loving, sovereign, and powerful God. He is giving you eyes to see beyond the pain, eyes to understand the importance of this stay-at-home order, and eyes to see it as a treasure, if bestowed in darkness. You are seeing facets that sparkle and shine in how you are approaching this—in all the ways you listed, and especially in cherishing the extended time you are able to invest in your parents and sister. I will tell you this, Lydia: After having experienced two graduations and a host of life experiences since then, while I am hardly downplaying the pain you are feeling (and it is real and warranted), in the panoply of your whole life, it will fade in prominence. So will your awards, your university graduation, your career, and other significant markers the world bestows. What will never fade, what will grow even stronger and shine even brighter, is your love for God and the time you spend with Him, the ministry He asks you to do in His name (and this too may change over time as you mature), and the beloved people who bear His image and whom your life touches—your family, your friends, and those you reach for Jesus, and all the good works He gives you to do for Him. These things will never fade, but shine brilliantly straight into eternity. What I love about you is that after the grief (and the graduation ceremony you may not experience), you ask the Lord to pick you up, dust you off, and use this bummer situation to make a difference for Him. My goodness, look at you: You are already doing that now by reaching out to other seniors who are experiencing this same grief and disappointment. Lydia, you are ALWAYS thinking of others, and this is one thing I so love and cherish in you. I started following you when you were eleven, because I was your mother’s friend. And then I kept following you, because you are YOU! I can’t tell you how proud I am to know you. You have already graduated in many ways in my heart, and you will keep on going and growing in Him. That is all that ultimately counts. So imagine me in a front row seat of your life, cheering you on and on and on . . . I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I stand on tiptoe, excitedly anticipating just what God will do next in your life! I can’t wait!

    I love you. Chin up, and ask Him to keep you encouraged. He will honor your attitude and your efforts as you encourage others, too!
    Love
    Lynn

    • Lynn, I cannot thank you enough for your kind words. You are so right: Even though we are in a time of uncertainty and disappointment right now, we know that our future is in the hands of a good, loving, powerful God. And our relationships with God matter so much more than any high school graduation or accomplishment. Thank you again for reaching out and sharing your sweet advice. I’m so glad to have you an my life as an encourager and supporter. Love you! xoxo

  4. Thank you Lydia for putting into words what every senior is feeling right now. You have such a spirit of resilience and joy. Thank you for sharing that with others. Prayers for you, your family, and all of the seniors whose final days of high school are so drastically different than planned.

  5. Pingback: (Don't Wait to Live) Until Tomorrow Song - Katie M. Reid

  6. Hi Lydia,
    I am a high school teacher (AP Spanish 5 in Kansas) and I saw you on the news the other day. I then searched for a way to contact you to thank you. I am using your insights and sharing them with my students next week. Every Monday, I send my students a message of hope in a video message. This week I am translating your inspiring challenge to Seniors as part of that message and sharing a bit about you. Thank you for sharing it with us all.
    Gracias y te deseo lo mejor,
    Profesora Annie Winkler

    • Annie, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad you are able to share my words with your students. I wish you and all of your students the best! Thank you again! 🙂

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