Photo: Louisa Vilardi
I graduated high school twenty years ago. I remember things being uncomplicated and fun as my fellow graduates and I moved into what felt like a comfortable and somewhat predictable world. We spent the summer of 2000 celebrating, traveling and organizing future plans with each other. Some of us went off to college, some began working, others even started families. Whatever it was, we felt ready for it. Most of us felt confidently equipped to face the world ahead of us. Things are much different nowadays. Twenty years later, the class of 2020 is a class like no other. You all have been catapulted into an uncomfortable and unpredictable world that has been full of disruption. But you have all learned the biggest and most important lesson this year: Expect the unexpected.
Back in the fall before the whole world fell apart, I met with a group of former high school teachers. A number of retired teachers get together monthly for breakfast and I decided to crash (with permission, of course). I was thrilled to see them all, but even more excited to get to discuss life with them. We talked about the class of 2000 and how proud they all are to watch us “grow up” on social media and see our successful careers, growing families and witness us make an impact on the world. Saddle Brook, NJ is a small town and they loved working there as one teacher said, “We were more of a family rather than colleagues. And we looked at you all more as our family, our kids, rather than just our students.” Another former teacher told me that she, “was prepared to let [us] out into the world after we graduated.” She continued with, “We knew that the class of 2000 was a strong class and could face obstacles and hurdles that got in the way.” We left that breakfast with many warm embraces and did not realize that the world was preparing to throw one nasty curveball at all of us, especially those still in school.
An amazing group of retired Saddle Brook High School teachers. Photo: Louisa Vilardi
The class of 2020 has seen and experienced things that usually would take a lifetime to witness: an unprecedented number of deaths, a crumbling economy and a virus that took the world by storm. You also have redefined learning, relationships and what it means to celebrate, whether it was an online gathering or a drive-by festivity. COVID-19 tried its hardest to crush you all, but you instinctively and creatively found ways to still live your lives. Many of you have grown to appreciate what learning really is and what defines an educator. You’ve realized the difference between a teacher who cares about education and those who do not. You’ve developed ways to communicate with friends and family while being safe. Most of you have followed the world’s new rules and also learned that adults, the rulemakers themselves, even break the rules sometimes. You had virtual graduations, drive-by birthday parades and high school sweethearts even held backyard proms with just a table for two.
A backyard prom for Ryan & Grace of East Fishkill, NY. Photo: Louisa Vilardi
These last few months have shaped the class of 2020 and you all have redefined the meaning of commencement. You should know that we are all watching from afar and admiring your boldness. This has been an arduous time for all of us and you all showed us an evolved and creative world. Thank you for that. So to the amazing trailblazers that you all are...keep expecting the unexpected, stay creative and always smile under your mask.