Dear Class of 2020,
I know you feel robbed right now. I know you’re frustrated. I know this is definitely not how you envisioned the culmination of your educational experiences panning out.
I know some of you might have already purchased your dresses for Prom, and the cherry on top of all this misery is that Caps and Gowns had already been ordered—that you now wonder if you’ll ever need.
I know some of you worked 15 years to finish Graduate School and were looking forward to finally walking across that stage and smugly shaking hands with the professor who gave you a hard time throughout it all.
I know some of you, while only beginning your educational journey in preschool, were looking forward to the first graduation experience you’ll ever have—to mark the beginning of that journey.
I know some of you had all these ideas in your mind about how your Senior Year would go, and plans for what to do with the treasury money you spent four years fundraising.
I know some of you already had your Valedictorian speech planned from the moment they finally told you in March it was going to be you.
And I know most of you are disappointed that of all the years the Universe could finally stop working in order, it had to be on your turn.
I know. Because I’ve been there. And so have many others.
I, too, missed a milestone Graduation, because the Universe stopped aligning during my time. I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony, and so later on, I created my own Pomp and Circumstance to mark it.
I enrolled in Graduate School when I was still pregnant with my second daughter. One hospitalized pregnancy, a husband who works 15 hour days, 4 years of 3 AM study-sessions, a Writing teacher internship, babysitting struggles, and a carefully chosen curriculum with a hard-earned 3.9 GPA later, I was finally ready to graduate. I couldn’t be more happy, exhausted, or more proud of myself.
But the Universe had other plans. My beloved Uncle—my dad’s little brother and confidant, my cousin’s father and lifeline, and my brother’s other half—died very unexpectedly and suddenly five days prior of a shocking heart attack. To say that my family was shook up is an understatement. He was very healthy, a physician himself, and had worked his whole career to become Chief of Staff—which he finally did two weeks before he passed away. But the Universe had other plans for him too.
He also worked hard for that final culminating moment—the one every physician dreams about—that peak of the physician career path —and he didn’t even get to enjoy and revel in it. He didn’t get to walk the halls of his hospital with a smug smile that says “hey, yah, that’s right, I own this place now.” So after he died we celebrated his career milestone, and still do, as we know he would have been an amazing Chief of Staff. In fact, if anyone could have taken on the difficult role it is to lead during the Coronavirus Pandemic, it was definitely a brilliant mind like his.
To add another milestone misery, he and his wife had also finally had the baby they’d spent eight years trying to bring into this world through many infertility struggles and miscarriages. 2019 was shaping up to be his year—the one he’d always planned and worked for—but the Universe had other plans. Now we celebrate his beautiful son, and create the Pomp and Circumstance we know he would have.
My uncle’s funeral took place five days later, on the day of my graduation. I was obviously in no mood to attend, and didn’t feel right attending anyway, as my dad had just buried his brother that morning. My kids were disappointed, as my daughter wanted to attend her first “real” graduation and was excited to see me put on my Cap and Gown. So a few days later, on a whim during a Trader Joe’s grocery run, I purchased a 6 inch chocolate cake for a small graduation party, just the four of us. I wore my cap and gown, my husband played Pomp and Circumstance on his phone, and we had a ceremony in our living room. My smile was bright and genuine that evening, and it was the first time in a week I felt anything other than remote sadness in my heart. I knew these were the most important three people I wanted there anyway, and they were there. I had my moment—my girls proudly saw me as a graduate, and I know that memory will forever be etched in their mind, the way I wanted.
So class of 2020, create your own Pomp and Circumstance.
Celebrate however you want. This is your chance to create your own party, your own memories, your own event. Maybe down the road your institutions will hold those events for you. But in the meantime, think of what you want. How do you want to mark this milestone event? Maybe down the road you want to plan a special trip, maybe you can finally ask for that graduation party your parents said no to before (they can’t really say no now!), maybe you wanted a small prom party anyway with just your closest friends when the time is right, maybe you wanted a special milestone gift, and maybe all your dreams are coming true and you didn’t care much for graduations anyway. The point is, you have the chance, unlike any other, to celebrate however you want.
The major life lesson to be learned here, that unfortunately had to be learned during your time, is that the Universe doesn’t always align the way we want. Sometimes it has other plans. Sometimes a person can go through four major milestone graduations—preschool, high school, college, and graduate school—only to have the Universe stop working in order right before they become Chief of Staff. And we can’t simply stop, question why, and break down angrily just because we felt robbed, but we have to find other ways to mark those milestones. When the time is right, we have to create the Pomp and Circumstance we want and know is deserved.
A fellow Universe dweller who bids you many congratulations.