An Open Letter to the Class of 2020 (and ALL young people)
It’s been one surreal spring. Not at all what any of us expected, especially all of you.
As a mom to two teenagers, every young person is on my mind right now, regardless of graduation year.
That said, for those of you who are going to miss out on traditional graduation festivities, I want you to know something. You may not have the chance to walk across a stage and hear our booming applause, but we’re collectively applauding the walk your entire generation has taken right into a place of great wisdom. You’ve had to grow up very quickly in recent months, and even if we’ve never met, I want you to know that I’m in awe of you. I believe that yours will be a generation who’ve learned the kind of lessons that will position you to make a lasting, positive impact on our circle of humanity.
Indeed, you've been learning lessons since you were quite young - long before Covid-19. You each have your own stories that have shaped you - full of milestones, setbacks, and eye-opening moments. But in recent months, you’ve learned things that many of us mid-lifers didn’t understand until well into adulthood. I’ve seen the resulting growth in my own kids, who totally inspire me. And I know you’ve grown too as you’ve discovered, through this pandemic, the importance of the following:
Being ready to PIVOT. You’ve experienced a complete overhaul in how you live and learn. You shifted gears when school moved from a classroom to a screen. You were flexible and accepted that you’d have to postpone or miss important life experiences like your tennis season, your prom, or testing for your second degree black belt. You realized that you even had to adapt to a new way of socializing - and how important it was to put the extra work into friendships that may have come more easily when you were able to hang out in person together. You’ve been unfailingly agile.
Being PRESENT. Now more than ever, you realize that each day is truly a gift. And because we aren’t sure what the world may look like several months from now, we’ve had the chance to really focus on the day we’ve got. You've discovered that there's something really special about being present to each day, and more importantly, to the people around you - without distractions of schedules, events, or activities outside of your homes. May you remember to carve out time to really be present to those you love in all of the years to come.
Managing your TIME. Time is a precious commodity, as “they” say! And, without the typical bell schedule of school, you’ve had to develop a routine for yourself that allows you to complete all responsibilities on deadline. That’s not easy, but you’ve done it! You’ve learned how to block specific hours for certain tasks, employing tools like lists, digital calendars, and more. You’ve learned how good it feels to be organized, and what you need to do to stay motivated so that you can accomplish your goals.
Being RESILIENT. You’ve seen first-hand - in a big way - that life delivers its share of disappointments. You’ve had to remember that while there’s so much we cannot control, we can definitely control our response to what happens around us. You’ve figured out how to move through your disappointments, finish your homework, manage whatever household responsibilities you have, all while tapping into strength and optimism you may not have even realized you had. My guess is you’ll be one of the most resilient groups of people our world has seen in decades.
Embracing CHALLENGES as OPPORTUNITIES. These have been tough times, but you’ve found the silver linings and used the space in your life to learn, grow, and envision your future. Many of you have learned to cook, how to mow the lawn, how to use the grill, or how to groom your pets. You may have read books, painted, created, done virtual tours of museums, or seen films that have opened your mind to new worlds. Maybe you developed a fitness routine for yourself or took some online courses. Or you volunteered your time making masks, delivering meals, or helping your parents figure out which organizations most needed your family’s support. Yes, the past few months have been full of challenges. But I’ve seen many of you take the opportunity to better yourselves or do something for the greater good, and I think it’s pretty darn awesome.
COMMUNICATING effectively (which includes LISTENING deeply). In a time of social distancing, you’ve had to learn how to be crystal-clear about what you need or want without the benefit of popping in to see a teacher, employer, or guidance counselor in person. You’ve had to advocate for yourself when you’ve needed extra help or were unclear on class expectations. You’ve had to listen actively to understand, without body language, what someone on the other end of a phone, text, or Zoom call was really trying to say. You’ve had to express yourself with confidence - and you’ve done it (even if you think you haven’t - I’m certain you or your loved ones can point out many moments where you did!). You’ve also probably had to more readily express empathy or encouragement to peers or neighbors who were struggling, which has helped you develop a stronger ability to really connect when you communicate.
Acknowledging our INTERDEPENDENCE. You made sacrifices for the greater good day after day, staying home to protect the health of those in your own circles as well as people you’ll never meet. You’ve been awakened to the fact that we are one human family, now fully aware that the actions we take each day impact everyone around us. You’ve learned that each of us has an important role within that human family, and you’ve owned that role just by making the choice to stay home and, when out in public, to wear a mask. Thank you for that.
Practicing GRATITUDE. You’ve probably noticed that your better days are those days when you’re carrying a general spirit of gratitude. You see that when you’re thankful for things like good health, a roof over your head, food on the table, and people who love you, it leads you to a happier space (or at least a more peaceful one).
Prioritizing SELF-CARE. This pandemic has reminded you to take care of yourself. To exercise so that your heart stays healthy. To rest so that your immune system stays strong. To nourish yourself with healthy foods and friendships. To honor all of your emotions, knowing that feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear, and frustration come with being human - and that it’s critical to allow yourself the space to process those feelings as they come up. You’ve also learned, I hope, that there are always people who can be of support when you get bogged down. And I bet you’ve learned that when you’re good to yourself, you have much more to give to others.
HONORING our differences. It’s highly unusual for teenagers and young adults to suddenly find themselves spending countless hours (days, weeks, and months!) at home, forced to work through interpersonal dynamics and honor various opinions! Sometimes it's comical, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes just plain difficult. It’s also unusual to live through a global crisis where you know that people everywhere may be subject to universal restrictions, but you quickly realize that each situation and response to that universal experience is unique to each person. You’ve learned how to acknowledge that we are all individuals with our very own experiences, viewpoints, and feelings; that every person is unique and special and deserves to be accepted and celebrated for exactly who they are, including you.
Remembering that there is SO MUCH GOODNESS in the world - and anyone can be part of that. In this complex, complicated crisis, you’ve seen that anyone and everyone can step up to be a force for good in this world, including you. And it doesn’t require big, dramatic changes or gestures - it can be in the simple, sometimes totally subtle exchanges with the people around you - or the random acts of kindness you feel compelled to do. Picking up groceries for an elderly neighbor. Calling your grandparents. Volunteering to pick up trash on a public trail. Writing cards to Veterans who are hospitalized. Simply offering to help around the house. There are countless ways to be of service to others; you’ve seen myriad examples, and you've led by example for others, too.
These have been tough times. There’s no question about it. And there will be other tough times on your journey ahead.
Life is a series of peaks and valleys. But if you apply the lessons you've learned in these darkest of times, the celebrations will be even sweeter when the brighter days come along.
Thank you for inspiring me and everyone around you by enduring this pandemic with grace.
Now get out there (when you’re able to safely do so!) and find those things that make you come to life. Find the people that keep you inspired. Find ways to laugh big laughs and to love with all your heart. Find ways to take these lessons, along with your unique, special talents and traits, to create a beautiful life for yourself and others. If you do that, you’ll have all kinds of brightness ahead of you.
You’ve already got wisdom well beyond your years; now you can use it as a force for good in this world.
And I know you will.
With respect and admiration to all of you - especially my two wonderful sons,
Marybeth Cale is a certified life and leadership coach who provides online and onsite personal and professional coaching and training to emerging and established leaders through her firm, Estuary Leadership.
Parents of high school students: Registration is now open for Marybeth's online summer program, Emerging Leaders, designed for students entering grades 9-12. Learn more about this opportunity, as well as other workshops and one-to-one coaching options, at estuaryleadership.com.