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A Message to Graduating Seniors

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I am so happy that our community will be honoring our graduating seniors in a variety of ways, including signs posted throughout our U.S. 1 corridor. Many people feel heartbroken for them, as these seniors are missing the end of their final year of school and traditional senior activities while distance learning in quarantine.

And yes, they have had to give up some things they were looking forward to, namely prom and their graduation ceremony. I, too, want to say my heart goes out to them, but then again, I see this a little differently.

So here is my message to the Class of 2020:

Wow. You’ve been through a lot in the past four years. Three years ago, you were new to high school when we evacuated for (or lived through) Hurricane Irma that ravaged the Florida Keys. Then two years ago, you were shocked with the tragedy at Margory Stoneman Douglas as your world changed from an unrealistic fairy tale to the realities and insecurities of the world we live in. You’ve had it tough. Remember the struggles you faced because these are examples of the types of obstacles you will face throughout your life.

Now you’re facing a worldwide pandemic in your senior year that has resulted in the cancelation of prom, graduation, and the other end-of-school activities you’d normally be participating in. That sucks.

Or does it?

Seniors, I know sometimes it’s hard to see the glass half full or accept change. It’s hard to miss out on things your older siblings and parents did. But I hope you realize that you are the class who got a gift that none of us have ever received. And that is the gift of time.

Seniors, you are about to start your lives outside of high school, whether that is college, military, or joining the workforce. In the past two months, you have had to do a half day of distance learning (if you did it right) with the rest of the day devoted to whatever you wanted to do.

What was that? Was it cooking a meal for your family? Was it playing a video game? Was it building something? Or developing a program? Playing an instrument? Were you helping a sibling understand a math or science concept? Did you create hilarious video spoofs of popular classical rock songs? Did you go fishing every day? Whatever you did, you chose to use your time in the way you did. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a job that you loved, too?

Planning for your future is extremely important. You will have to choose your destiny before it chooses you. You have been given this awesome gift of time to discover yourself and your interests. I, nor anyone on this planet, have never had that luxury. Your job is somewhere you will be at least 40 hours of every week, and you have been given the time to discover how you’d like to fill those hours based on how you have been filling them in the past two months. Figure out what makes you happy and go for it! You’ve still got the time!

Additionally, the time you’ve had has hopefully been stress-free or with little stress. School has been pretty easy if you’ve spent just 25 minutes a day on each class. You’re free to re-do low-grade assignments, and you’ve even been able to stay in bed all day AND still attend school. Plus, you don’t have to pass the otherwise-required state tests! I assure you, you’ve never had it easier than now, and you never will.

When you venture out into the journey of an adult life with us old folks, you will have bills to pay. You will have relationships to work on. You will have places to be. Things to do. People to see. Honestly, the stress of life is what sucks. I’ve realized this through quarantine. I have so appreciated being able to get out of bed before work, mosey into my home office, and turn on my computer in order to teach my students. There is no drama. There are no distractions. There is only the stress that I put upon myself to do a good job. I’ve never had that before. And you were given this gift, too, in a time that is typically one of the most stressful times of a person’s life.

“But what about prom and graduation?” you might ask.

The only thing I remember about those type of events (that I actually attended) were what I see in old photos.

As far as graduation, my advice to you is take your senior photos! Post them on all your social media! If you didn’t have them taken, have your mom take pictures of you and the things you’re into – maybe you in your car or you posing with your guitar. Be sure you like it. Photoshop out all the acne. Bam. Senior photos with a story of all stories to tell, and $900 still in your parents’ pockets. Because YOUR CLASS was different than any other class in the development of human history.

Prom? Put on that dress or rent that tux. Take photos with your boyfriend or girlfriend, who I know you’re still seeing despite social distancing! Have a romantic picnic at sunset somewhere, or now you can even go out to dinner.

You will not be missing out. You know what happens at prom? I’ve been a teacher for 12 years – in charge of prom for about 4 of those years – and I can tell you what happens at prom. Students go to prom and get their photo taken with their date or friends (which you can still do, as I suggested). Then (if you are a girl) you will take off your shoes and leave them in a corner with your purse that you will be worrying about all night. You will stay an hour or two to see what’s going on, and you will eat something light. Then you will leave and find somewhere else to go, or you will go home. The big deal about prom is dressing up to look your best, taking photos, then sharing a fun time with friends. All can be done, even remotely, and all you miss out on is the peer pressure to do something that might be dangerous. In 2020, you will be safe, you will be beautiful (you could even use filters if you need to and look like an astronaut or a kitty cat!), and you don’t even have to put shoes on in the first place.

Seniors, this gift of time is something that nobody in our lifetimes has ever had. It is a gift that, in my opinion, is more meaningful than any graduation present. You get to discover yourself. You get to discover your talents. You get to discover your interests… without the ugly monster that will probably haunt you the rest of your life: stress. Try your assignments, and you will pass. If you don’t do it right, you can do it again. And as long as you have your credits, you are getting a diploma. It is an unprecedented time, and it is to your advantage.

Not only do you have these benefits, but you now you are completely tech savvy. You are actually prepared for this world, unlike previous classes in the last several years who have had teachers standing over their shoulders guiding them through instructions using the computer. Unlike them, you’ve had to figure this all out from home. Our world has changed to be a technological one, and you are better prepared for this world than any graduating class in human history.

So seniors, I hope you understand what a gift you have in this unprecedented time. Take your photos and splatter them all over social media. But realize that you have been given a gift no one has ever had before entering the real world. Time is the only thing that you can never, ever get back. You might not appreciate this right now, but you will look back at your graduation year – the year you prepared to face the challenges of the real world – as a time of peace. A time when there were no school shootings. A time when everyone was relatively safe from everything but a viral pandemic that we could wage war against on our couch in our pajamas.

As we now begin to come out of quarantine and readjust to an even newer society that is a meld between pre- and post-COVID-19, remember the time, peace, and safety that you’ve had in the past two months. These are things that are priceless… something you may never have again.

Own it. Use it. Embrace it.

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