How We Can All Encourage the Class of 2020 Seniors
Updated: Apr 23
We all know that this year's seniors are getting a raw deal. They are feeling devastated to have to leave high school behind so abruptly. No senior prom. No graduation ceremony. No sneakily planned ditch day that the teacher's kindly turn a blind eye to. No schemes for an epic senior prank. No tearful yearbook signings in the hallway between classes. No awards dinners or final parties for the clubs and sports they've invested in for years. There's no way to soften the blow. The class of 2020 has been ripped off.
Perhaps it would help if we all posted our senior photos on social media, chatting it up with our friends about how cute and skinny we were back in the day - airing all our nostalgic senior moments to highlight precisely what they're missing out on. What, that's not helpful? Weird. A lot of people thought that was a fantastic idea. It turns out, we can do better.
I hope monumental efforts will be made to give seniors a make-up prom. I hope they don't have to settle for a virtual graduation. The class of 2020 should have the chance to sweat on a football field in matching polyester hats while their principal slowly reads hundreds of names. But, we can't honestly guarantee that anyone will be able to make this up to this up to them. However, you can do your best to encourage the seniors in your life.
Here's what everyone can be saying to encourage seniors right now. I'm sorry. This isn't fair. You've worked hard to get to this moment and it isn't playing out the way you expected. We all wish we could wave a magic wand and fix this pandemic, but we can't.
Your generation understands uncertainty in a way ours never will. Many of you were born in 2002. Your first breaths were taken in a world trying to understand what the future would look like after 9/11. You've navigated how to feel secure in a school building that regularly runs active-shooter drills. You've learned to talk openly about mental health issues that older generations still whisper about, advocating for yourself and your friends. If any generation can adapt to what's happening right now, it's you. It won't be easy, but I believe you're up to the challenge.
Take the time to mourn. Own your disappointment. You are allowed to feel all your feelings. You've looked forward to these specific moments for over a decade. Express what you're feeling. Write the songs, howl into the night, cry into a pillow, or yell at your parents. We love you and hate that you're hurting, we're willing to shoulder a little of your anger if it helps. And when you're done with that, humor me as I share some words of wisdom.
The best moments in your life will be the ones you don't see coming. Graduation is okay. It's somewhat meaningful - a rite of passage. But you will have a dozen moments in your life that will make you feel more proud of yourself. Prom is fun, it's a big deal, and you get to dress up fancy, but it doesn't even scrape the surface of the romance that awaits you. Your life will be filled with celebrations, and the best ones are never the ones you plan with great expectations. The best memories you'll make are the ones that catch you by surprise, the personal moments that belong to you alone, not the one-size-fits-all celebrations and greeting card holidays that society will try to sell you.
Life is full of disappointment. How you respond to the disappointments you can't control will shape how you see the world. Up until now, your parents have done everything they can to shield you from disappointments. They wait to tell you about exciting plans until those plans feel pretty solid. They find ways to make up for shortcomings or soften the blow when things go wrong. But from here on out, the world is going to come at you full force, and a lot of it will be pretty crummy. You'll have less control than you'd like, but you can always control the way you bounce back. See this as a chance to practice how you'll respond to disappointment, and on that note... it's time to get a little creative.
Constraint boosts your creativity. The most creative things I've ever done have been a result of some pretty intense constraint. There's a reason the concept of a starving artist is so common it has become a cliche. People with unlimited resources rarely create compelling art because they aren't forced to get creative.
If this year had gone like every other year, you and your friends would have sat in rented chairs this spring, listening to a graduation speaker tell you how meaningful your graduation was. Since that won't be happening, or at least not in the way you expected, see it as an opportunity to get creative.
Make a new plan. Don't be constrained by tradition. If graduation had never existed, and you had a chance to determine for yourself how to celebrate your academic accomplishments, how would you do it? What would be personally meaningful to you and your friends? You could plan a reunion trip for one-year from now, or hire a filmmaker to make an epic music video, shooting each of your friends individually and editing it together into something you'll cherish. Leave a legacy by raising funds to build something your school needs, a swimming pool, a theater, an athletic field, or whatever upgrades you can imagine, do it in the name of the class of 2020.
When you have something in mind, present it to your parents. See if they'll help you. If it's too big for them, present it to your community. Launch a Go Fund Me. Your town is full of people who are aching to do something to make the world a little better right now, they're tired of sewing masks (and trust me, they feel super guilty that they got the graduation you didn't and that their best collective idea of how to help was to post their senior photos on social media.) You will find plenty of people who will help you make your personalized, creative, rite of passage moment happen for you if you're willing to put forth your plan and make the big ask.
And if, as a result, you can learn the value of thinking creatively and asking boldly, then you just got more out of your disappointment than most people ever get out of a graduation ceremony.
If you're a senior and you've made a fantastic alternate celebration plan that you need a little help with, post about in the comments and I'll do my best to help spread the word.
If you're a parent looking for creative was to celebrate your senior this year, sign up for my email list, and I'll send you my latest resource for free: 5 Creative Ways to Celebrate Your 2020 Graduate.
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.