Apr 072020 3 Responses

A Letter to Seniors Now that School Is Canceled

Dear Seniors,

This isn’t fair. When you donned your preschool gown and walked across the stage, no one told you to take it all in because your High School graduation would be canceled. When you sat as an elementary student and watched the graduating seniors walk back through the hallways, no one warned you that you would not get that experience.

As the Covid-19 epidemic turns to a global pandemic, there are a thousand griefs our world is facing–northern Italy has been overwhelmed with death, New York hospitals are out of room, and America is in a complete shutdown. Of those griefs, it’s true that some are more significant than others. Losing an otherwise healthy spouse just days after the initial symptoms of a sore throat is not an equal loss to my son not being able to celebrate his 12th birthday with friends. There are some sorrows that are worse than others.

However, grief is still grief. While we should take our sorrows into context–not every grief is equal–we shouldn’t feel pressure do ignore our loss simply because we haven’t hit a 10 on the grief meter.

One of the sorrows of this season is for students graduating from high school. What is meant to be a time of great significance–proms, parties, Baccalaureates (I’ve spoken at those more times than I have actually spelled the word correctly without the use of spell check), and graduation ceremonies–has turned into a strange season of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. (See: 7 Tips for Today’s Graduates)

So how do you respond?

Avoid The Two Ds

The first thing you should do is ignore two common responses.

One is denial. Some will try to guilt you for feeling grief. I’ve already seen it online–“to the Seniors who are sad about missing graduation, suck it up, my generation missed their graduation because of Vietnam.” Well, we are grateful for the service and sacrifice of others, but that line of thinking is just inhumane. It’s often from people who have never dealt with their own grief, so they can’t allow others to experience grief. Yes, this circumstance is better than what some generations past have faced, but you still have a right to be sad about it.

The other bad response is despair. Some are tempted to think this is the worst thing to ever happen, especially if a person hasn’t experienced much sorrow in life. The sorrow can feel overwhelming. This is a sad time, but losing your graduation ceremony or your prom or the last two months of your senior year is not life-altering grief. It’s sad, but not tragic.

Embrace The Two Gs

Instead of experiencing denial or despair, there is is a better approach–grief and gratitude.

First, you should grieve your loss. Don’t let anyone tell you that your sadness doesn’t matter or isn’t significant enough to be expressed. This is not the end you expected. It’s not the outcome anyone wanted. Grieve that. And don’t just grieve it in general, get specific. List out everything you are going to miss and every experience you wish you could have had–saying goodbye to teachers, walking the hallway the last day of class, getting awards, etc. Grieve them all. And realize that there may be things you grieve later that you don’t even consider now. Don’t be ashamed of sadness; feel it and grieve it.

Second, while you grieve what is lost, also have gratitude for what you have. This isn’t what you wanted, but there are still good things. Sheltering in place is better than being sent to war. While the celebrations may not be as many, this still is a good time of life and many opportunities lie ahead. Even as you stay at home, this is a time with your family that you will never get back. Do everything in your power to seek out the good things around you and call them by name.

As you do both of these, allow your gratitude to outweigh your grief. (See: The One Piece of Advice I Would Give a 7th Grader)

Welcome to Adulthood

I don’t mean it to sound harsh or cold, but if I could say one thing to high school seniors, it would be “welcome to adulthood.” This experience truly is an introduction to the rest of your life. I’m not saying it’s all going to be doom and gloom or full of disappointments. But I am saying that many things in life will not go as you had planned. Things you longed for and looked forward to will not come to pass.

But in every disappointment, there will also be an opportunity. Some will be incapable of admitting their grief and will forever dwell in denial. Others will be so self-centered in their loss that they will forever be in despair. But if you can learn to both grieve and feel gratitude, you will have the opportunity to experience an amazing life that is full of pain and disappointment, but also rich with beauty and opportunity.

Each year I do a good number of outdoor weddings. And every year at least one of those has to be changed because of the weather. Some couples see the rain as a sign that life is unfair and that they are uniquely burdened. Others see the rain as just a part of life. While they wished it hadn’t happened, it’s minor in comparison to the gift they are experiencing by gaining a spouse. The former couples don’t last; the latter couples do. (See: A Forgotten Sign of Adulthood)

I’m sorry to say that life hurts sometimes. And when it does, you need to feel the hurt, admit it, and grieve it. But as you do, also open your eyes and your hearts to all the good that is around you, feel gratitude, and look forward to the next challenge. The seniors who are able to do that will look back on this season with a hint of sorrow, but an overall picture of good.

So seniors, I’m sorry for your loss, but grateful for your opportunities.



P.S. show this to your parents, they might be more sorrowful than you over the change of this season, but they, too, have much to be grateful for.

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