Dear Class of 2020

Prom Then

The events are still in my calendar. I put them into my phone as soon as they were confirmed during the winter. This was of course during the Before Times. I stopped making “plans” in March and my personal calendar is empty for the foreseeable future so all that I see when I pick up my phone is Prom May 21. A few weeks later there is Graduation June 16.

I know I should delete them! Even though our current stay at home orders expire June 8th we all know my son’s graduation from School Without Walls is not happening on June 16th. Just like there was no prom in May.  No matter what happens we are not going to be packing throngs of adoring relatives into a cramped theater anytime soon. And yet. I cannot bring myself to hit DELETE.

Right now you are no doubt thinking “Lady! Get a grip!” And you are 100 percent right.

This catastrophic global pandemic has hit everyone in the country in some way. Most horrifically thousands of people have died and thousands more have lost loved ones. Millions are unemployed. The economy is tanking.  Everything is scary. Right now, the most fortunate members of our society are those who are still able to work and earn a living from the safety of home. Maybe these folks had to adjust to doing yoga in the living room while taking advantage of this time at home to really level up their baking game. Raises hand.

There has been so much loss and many more life events postponed. The Olympics. Jazz Fest. So many weddings!

In the light of all this loss it feels more than a little indulgent for me and my fellow class of 2020 parents to mourn these more frivolous events. Anyone who actually went to their senior prom will tell you the experience falls somewhere between “Just fine” and “Don’t ask.” The evenings can be expensive and disappointing, so we can tell ourselves that they are not missing much. However as someone who attended proms in late 1980s New Jersey I understand the perverse pleasure of looking back at my photos of tragic fashion and truly inexplicable hairstyles.

Fine. I’m not proud of this, but I will admit it. I was looking forward to it. My elder son did go to his prom with his friends, but he only allowed me to take one grim solo photo before he took off. His younger brother, with his large, loud posse of goofball friends was likely going to indulge my pathetic desire to take pictures and assist with corsages. (Do kids even do corsages anymore? I WILL NEVER KNOW.)

While there are plenty who don’t attend prom, most high school seniors do participate in some kind of Graduation. The whole Cap and Gown – Pomp and Circumstance – Follow your dreams – Toss the cap in the air – Smile with proud parents -Where are my FRIENDS ritual?! We all know it. It is all so cliché. But this time was going to be their turn to wear the gown and pose with grandma. It was their turn walk across the stage and be mortified by, yet secretly enjoy, their embarrassing mamaarazzi. Their turn to throw the hat!

Our secular culture lacks opportunities for shared milestones and rites of passage, but high school graduation is one event that is marked in some way by the majority of Americans. No matter if the school is a big public school like the Hill’s own Eastern High School or a small independent school like Blythe Templeton, our culture marks this transition as the end of childhood.

Unlike other events that may be able to be postponed until a later date, for the class of 2020, this is it. The world will eventually move on and a new senior class is waiting to take their stage. The class of 2020 was experiencing the early symptoms of Senioritis and about to hit their stride when everything just stopped. No spring sports. No spring musicals, or Senior Skip Day and final projects. It all just vanished in a way they could never have anticipated. When I asked my son what his school’s HSA could do to honor the class, his response, “Cure Corona,“ was a blunt gut punch.

As parents of teenagers we have known for a while that we cannot just make things better. These issues are all beyond our limited control. No signs or floats or Zoom parties will not make up for what they are missing.

So here we are.  Parents, neighbors, community institutions, and celebrities scrambling to give these young adults the opportunity to mark this passage in a way that feels memorable. As if they would ever forget it! The class of 2020 will be bound like none other. How many graduating classes will be able to boast national ceremonies led by LeBron James, Barack and Michelle Obama and John Krasinski?

While nothing will make up for the loss of their senior year, my hope is that the class of 2020 knows how loved they are. While the online celebrations are fun, I hope they understand just how much EVERYONE is thinking about them and cheering for them. All of these strangers taking the time to acknowledge their unique loss and hoping that better days will surely come.  I want them to carry the love and support and weirdness of this time always. My hope is that all of this awfulness means that while the class of 2020 must take their first steps onto the stage of adulthood uniquely alone but together, they will share an outsized capacity for grace, compassion, wonder and joy.