Class of 2020, so much has been taken from you. Of course, COVID-19 is to blame, yet finding fault probably doesn’t matter if you’ve been looking forward to the milestone of graduation. This final educational rite of passage is an event marking years of hard work and discipline.
Personally, I’ve attended an annual high school graduation for the past 15 years. Even before the coronavirus changed all of our lives, I knew I probably wouldn’t be seeing the Class of 2020 graduate, because my school superintendent spouse retired from Hardin-Houston Schools last July. He didn’t stay retired, but that’s a whole other column.
I never once missed the opportunity to attend commencement ceremonies at whatever school Larry was serving. I would go early to find a seat in the empty gymnasium near the graduates, allowing me to palpably share their excitement.
That’s why, Class of 2020, it’s incredibly unfair whether you are in high school, college, a career technical or industrial training school that you won’t be able to walk across an auditorium filled with supporters cheering you on as you accept your diploma. You earned the privilege, and it’s heartbreaking that it’s been taken from you. Thankfully, there have been a variety of creative technological ways employed to celebrate your success, but not with an official commencement ceremony.
Two years ago, I was blessed to be the guest speaker for a high school graduation, which was a bucket list speaking engagement. After all, I almost didn’t live to graduate from high school during the 1970s.
I’ve told the testimony of my miraculous survival countless times, but I haven’t shared about the kind principal who enabled me to graduate with my class. After a near fatal but failed suicide attempt as a junior, I spent most of my senior year, first in a psychiatric ward and then later as a patient committed to Toledo State Mental Hospital.
When I was released from the state institution a month before graduation ceremonies, it was too late to return to school. Nervously, I sat alone in the office at Lima Central Catholic, as Principal Father E.C. Herr decided my fate.
“It would be too difficult for you to repeat senior year,” he said candidly. This compassionate priest understood for someone already battling depression that would be too lofty of a goal. “Let’s see what we can do to have you graduate with your class. Did you study anything while you were hospitalized?” he asked hopefully.
“There was a library at the state institution. I spent a lot of time there, reading, writing and even memorizing poetry,” I answered.
“Okay, we can give you a credit for English and another one for psychology,” the caring Catholic administrator said, almost conspiratorially.
Before I left Fr. Herr’s office that afternoon, he had conjured up enough credits for me to graduate despite missing most of my senior year. Honestly, I felt like a fraud at the graduation ceremony. The legendary administrator was famous for bending the rules for troubled teenagers.
Anyway, I never told the story, not wanting to put my not-so-legitimate diploma in jeopardy. Now that decades have passed, and I’ve earned a couple other college degrees thanks to this late educator’s wisdom, I guess it’s time.
The point is, Class of 2020, I know firsthand what it feels like to be robbed of the joys of senior year. But there’s something very important you should know. Despite this crushing disappointment, you’re going to be OK. You see, life is filled with devastating disappointments, the job you want and don’t get, the love relationship that leaves you brokenhearted, the health issue that robs you of vitality, among other dreams that don’t come true.
Unfortunately, you have had to learn this life lesson about disappointment sooner than most. It will change you, but don’t let it destroy who you are meant to become. Stir up the next dream inside. Don’t give in, give up or get bitter. Instead, move on to your next goal, realizing if you got through this, you can navigate any hurdle with grace and tenacity.
Class of 2020, the word “commencement” means a beginning. This is not an ending, rather the beginning. Now, go out there and make us even prouder of you, than many of us already are. Congratulations!
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com