Yesterday our 18 year-old son took part in his “socially distanced” COVID 19 induced graduation ceremony. As a family, we walked into the school donning our masks and were greeted by various teachers and school administrators sporting their own face coverings who politely congratulated our son and offered directions on the process. The same school he had entered regularly for the past four years with his friends and classmates. The same school where he had surely experienced anguish and disappointments that were vastly outnumbered by the times of joy, fun, laughter, learning and fellowship. The same building where only months earlier we had watched with pride as he and his soccer teammates celebrated a State Championship with teachers, administrators, coaches and their peers. This building that had been a regular destination for hours upon hours of walking the halls and seeing the familiar faces of caring teachers and friends was eerily quiet and mostly vacant.
We watched as he opened a box with various items and proceeded to put on his Vice President sash and various chords and a medal celebrating his achievements. A school representative took a nice family photo and we entered the gymnasium. The gymnasium that on any other graduation day is over-flowing with teachers, families, friends and community members prepared to celebrate another group of outstanding young women and men was covered by absolute silence. His sisters and brother-in-law waited in the area that was designated for close family as my wife and I walked on the stage and met him to hand him his hard earned high school diploma as his name was announced and his principal and superintendent watched from a distance. They offered their congratulations and we exited the building, thus ending his high school graduation ceremony. An exercise repeated again and again by all of his nearly 200 classmates and their families.
After we arrived back home he perused the box of items he had been given full of past assignments that his wonderful teachers throughout the years had been kind and thoughtful enough to maintain and give to him so he could take a trip down memory lane. We all laughed as he read aloud some of the funny things he had written in elementary and middle school.
The next time I saw him was when I entered his room a little later to make sure he knew how proud I was of all he has accomplished. I went up the stairs and opened the door to his room and my heart sank. He was sitting there in his room, still fully cloaked in his graduation attire; the cap and gown his mother had so meticulously ironed covering the tie I had readied for him neatly around his neck, at the desk where he spent way too many late nights cramming for an exam, rushing to finish a paper or assignment he had procrastinated, or playing a video game with his incredible group of lifetime buddies. For one of the first times during this crisis that so rudely interrupted the spring of his senior year we noticed a look of real disappointment. He mumbled how a lot of what was missed really stunk, but to not get to experience graduation with his friends and fellow classmates was the worst part.
I have heard many times about the importance of closure. That point in time when something that has become a very instrumental period in our life is complete. When this occurs we are told we need to experience, comprehend, and accept the finality of the specific time or event that up to that point has been a defining element of our life. Proper closure should include an honoring of all the accomplishments and a celebration of the period of transition as we let go of what is finished and move onward to something new.
It is an undeniable truth that high school graduation is one of the most important life-defining transitional events. The celebration serves as the gateway between youth and adulthood and is the very definition of what it takes to achieve closure. After yesterday, my heart aches for all of the high school seniors who are being denied the opportunity the rest of us enjoyed and were able to experience. We got the closure that allows one to proceed onward into the future. Having lived this makes me empathetic for all the parents of high school seniors who are likewise being deprived of the celebratory day that brings to close a child’s youth.
I’ve always wanted to be the person who “fixes” things for those I love so this experience has been painful, frustrating, and humbling. My fellow parents of 2020 graduates please know the pain you feel for your child and yourself is natural so don’t feel like you need to hold it in, it’s OK to let it out. Class of 2020 I salute you and offer up prayers for you as you venture out and into your next great adventure. You truly are a special group even if high school has an unconventional ending, allow it to make you appreciate each other even more when you gather again in the future!