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.
A High School Senior