As the high school and college classes of 2020 are virtually celebrating their graduation, their memories of the latter half of this academic year will no doubt be a major narrative of their young lives.
I recall one of my high school counselors telling my senior class in 1987 that graduation would be the final juncture where we would all be together. No matter how many class reunions we would have, someone would always be missing.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can only imagine the disappointment and hurt felt by this year’s graduates in not being able to don their caps and gowns with their classmates, missing that milestone ceremony where they would be in the same auditorium, arena or stadium one last time.
The coronavirus ruthlessly encroached on the timeline for 2020 high school and college grads, and it is startling to think about how different the world is now from the years when I earned my high school diploma and bachelor’s degree. None of the global tragedies that my peers and I witnessed in 1987 and 1991, respectively, can compare to the catastrophic suffering and death that students have seen within the past two months due to the onslaught of COVID-19.
For example, in 1987, hundreds were killed in a clash between Shia Iranian pilgrims and Sunni Saudi-Arabian troops, and deadly violence was ongoing during the Sri Lankan War. In 1991, there was a cholera outbreak in Peru.
As gruesome as these events were, they did not personally affect us in the severe manner of the coronavirus, which has spread to 212 countries. COVID-19 cases in the U.S. topped a little over 1 million, and the virus brought our daily lives to a grinding halt with social distancing.
With all that is going on around us, I’m sure that many of our 2020 graduates have some anxiety about what lies ahead.
For the high school grads attending college, their fears are probably tempered somewhat since many of them will be dependent on their parents for another four or five years.
Recent college graduates heading out into the world on their own, however, will be navigating their first significant steps as adults.
My advice to all of these young people comes from a well-known Baptist hymn: “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.” The first verse is particularly relevant to what we are experiencing now with COVID-19:
“Time is filled with swift transition
“None, none earth removed can stand
“Build your hopes on things eternal
“And then hold, hold to God’s unchanging hand.”
COVID-19 has brought an overwhelmingly “swift transition” upon us, but if our hope is built on God, who is eternal, then we will have the strength to endure a pandemic or any other critical circumstances we face.
A Bible verse that I also think is especially fitting for graduates is Jeremiah 29:11. The Amplified version reads, “For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you, says the LORD, plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
Graduates, I encourage you to entrust your plans to God, who has a divine purpose for you. For those going to college in the fall, place your ideas before God in prayer. Ask Him for direction in choosing your major and how He wants to use the talents and gifts He has bestowed in you. For college grads, ask God for guidance in your career path or in graduate school if you are continuing your education. Whether you are pursuing a master’s or Ph.D., starting your own business or entering a budding professional field, seek God for counsel in how He wants to prosper you.
Finally, remember that commencement means a “beginning or start.” COVID-19 has caused you to miss your traditional commencement ceremony, but hand over your new beginning to God. He will provide you with assurance and wisdom to be successful in this next chapter of your life.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. @JjSmojc