May 22, 2020

The day that the Governor announced that schools would remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year was a hard one. Even though we all knew that was most likely going to be the case, having it be official was hard. No school events, no in person graduations or celebrations. No last day to say goodbye. For Seniors and to some extent 8th graders, the finality of this strikes to the core.

Technology allows us to have more access to each other than ever before and communities are creating virtual ways to celebrate the accomplishments of students everywhere. Prom pictures, graduation photos, car parades, Social Media posts… All of these things will both help us to remember what we’ve accomplished, but will also be a permanent reminder of what was lost.

The grief is real.

For many Seniors, not being able to say goodbye or have any kind of celebration of the end of their time as a student, is devastating. The final concerts, dances, banquets with all the traditions and awards that students look forward to won’t happen. The loss is real. So much work and effort into preparing for final performances all for nothing.

For students who couldn’t wait to get out of high school, the grief is be more complicated, but it may still be there, somewhere. Perhaps during these months of distance learning there has been a realization that maybe high school wasn’t so bad. We don’t always know we will miss something until it’s gone.

For parents who have raised these children and have looked forward with joy, or relief, or both to the day they graduate from high school, there is also grief. When my oldest graduated from high school, the celebration was as much for their Dad and me as it was for them. Raising children isn’t easy and seeing them becoming their own person and successfully complete a major milestone in life is thrilling! Seeing their name and face on a sign or a virtual screen is nice, but not the same.

As humans, we use rituals or rites of passage throughout our lives to mark transition points. We know from research that rites of passage, be they religious or secular in nature are critically important in helping people transition into new “chapters” of their life. In our culture, graduating from high school is, for many people, their transition into the world of adults. We’ve prolonged adolescence into the early 20’s for those who go to college, but there is still clear mark for much of the world that the end of high school is the end of childhood.

The grief is real.

With all this we can’t allow ourselves or our children to get stuck. Feel the grief. Write about it. Talk about it, Cry about it. Then dry your eyes and create alternative rituals for your children and community. So many plans and ideas are already out there to help celebrate this new class of graduates heading out into the world.

The perspective these students will have going into their future will be different than any other group. Their experiences this year will provide them with the chance to really look at their priorities – what is REALLY important to them? In the same way that students who graduated around the time of Columbine made decisions about their future careers based on that event and students that graduated around 9/11 moved into the armed forces in significant numbers, who knows how THESE events will shape THESE students.

What we do know is that all the hard work and preparation has not been for nothing. Sometimes the work IS the thing. The performance, celebration or event is the public face, but if that doesn’t happen it doesn’t mean it was all for naught. Post those pictures and videos. Share those projects and awards. Shout from the rooftops how proud you are of your child.

The grief is real, but so is the healing and the moving forward. We can help our children recover from this challenging time and they will thrive. They will in fact go forward with open eyes about the realities and challenges of our world and continue the hard work to make it better for everyone.