My youngest son Jake is a senior in high school. Like millions of kids his age, this last semester hasn’t gone at all as planned. Instead of preparing for graduation ceremonies, afternoon tent parties, yearbook signings, high fives and endless hugs of classmates and teachers, Jake is wrapping up his last on-line exams and emailing his final assignments.
Can you remember your last semester of high school? It seemed like one of the most exciting, energizing and scary times of our lives. The whole world was in front of us just waiting to be grasped like a bull by the horns. Many of us were probably just hoping not to get trampled over by that bull.
I keep asking my son how he’s doing, and if he’s ok since I’m personally having such a hard time with his senior year ending so unceremoniously. No countdown of the final days, no pictures at the front door for the last day, no rituals for the end of the school year. For some reason he seems to be taking all this in stride and as I look back on the first 18 years of his life that shouldn’t surprise me.
The class of 2020 was born into uncertainty as the dust of 9/11 still hung heavy when they entered the world. 6 years later the mortgage meltdown and worldwide recession would only add to the instability as millions lost their homes, their jobs and their retirement nest eggs.
This group of seniors has grown up with rise of social media- which unsurprisingly coincides with some of the highest teen-suicide and mental health issues of any generation. If that wasn’t bad enough, Jake and his friends used to share with me their plans for surviving a school shooting and informed me of classes they refused to sign up for because the room wasn’t strategically located for an escape route. Not exactly the kind of lunchroom discussions I was having as a high school senior.
And now or course Covid 19 and the social unrest still unfolding as I write this.
I share all this not to bring you down but rather bring to light the lessons in resiliency and overcoming adversity we’ve witness from this group of young men and women. The class of 2020 should inspire each and every one of us.
While many of us are learning the ins and outs of conducting an effective video conference, this group has shifted to a wonky patchwork of online school learning programs with ease. Many of them have been coaching their teachers and administrators on the best practices for virtual teaching as well as tutoring their friends and siblings to help them keep up.
While we are struggling to stay connected with our families and friends, this class has been using facetime, snapchat and playing on-line video games for years. Their integration to an on-line world has evolved seamlessly into a globally connected community.
It’s not as though they enjoyed being cooped up with their families these past few months and missing out on the senior experience certainly wasn’t how they envisioned their last semester of high school. It’s that they just seem to take it all in stride and say, “well guess we have to make changes and do something different.” And they make is sound so easy.
This Class of 2020 is part of a new generation- call it the I Generation. They’ve never known a world without the internet, or social media. They adapt to the “new” and accept it as part of their daily lives. They recognize that you don’t need to be in the same location as another to work together, play together and be together. Unlimited access to information has made them extremely intelligent to the point where they question EVERYTHING… and why shouldn’t they?
They also understand that the world can be a dangerous place. That things can be taken from you without warning. That people and relationships are more valuable than money. That just because you have a position of power and authority, doesn’t make you “right” or a good person. They view race, religion and gender as outdated external labels that in no way determine one’s internal values.
They also understand that if you work hard, you get to play hard and they value “play” time above all else.
When I was a senior in high school the world seemed like such a big place and at times was overwhelming. For the class of 2020, the world has shrunk and is connected like no other time in our history. This group doesn’t seem overwhelmed by anything, and for that I’m in awe.
Some will say it’s the naivety of youth, the invincible feeling you get at 18, but with this class it feels like something so much more. Every graduation I’ve attended in the past 30 years shares the same message of making your mark in the world and maybe even changing it.
This Class really seems to mean it, and isn’t afraid to actually make the changes that the promises of our youth hold so dear. Now more than ever, we need a generation that isn’t driven by fear, but rather by the hope that only a high school senior can truly understand.
The Class of 2020 will be remembered for a lost senior experience finished out in quarantine and civil unrest. No proms, no commencements no tears of goodbye. But I also believe that the class of 2020 will create a future that equips us all not only to deal with our current problems, but the challenges we haven’t even thought of yet.
So to my son and all the seniors everywhere this year- we are all proud of the young men and women you are, and inspired by who you will become. I think it’s only fitting to end with the immortal words of America’s greatest poet…Dr Seuss
“You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot. Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
“Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!”
“And will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed! 99 and three quarters percent guaranteed!”
Cheers to the Class of 2020 and everything you will become
One Quarter Turn at a Time