Saturday, March 14, 2020

An Open Letter to the American Highschool Graduating Class of 2020

Dear Seniors,

Right now, I know you are all just coming to terms with being robbed of your final months in highschool, one of the most memorable years of your life. Not only are schools closing and classes cancelled, but all of those special senior activities you’ve been planning for, training for, shopping for, and anticipating all year - from sporting events to school dances, spring break trips, Disneyland, Grad Night, and perhaps even a Graduation ceremony  itself - POOF, vanished, just like that.

I feel for you. I understand how important this all is at your age. Here are you ready to celebrate with your besties before you set out to brave adulthood, and just like that you’re halted, locked down, isolated, and “stuck” at home. YES, it sucks! It’s NOT fair! Of course you are upset. Of course you are angry. It’s all too easy to lose hope and feel like nothing is worth it anymore. The  world, YOUR world, seems to be falling apart before your very eyes. The future, YOUR future, at this moment, is now a complete unknown. 

For your parents, this feeling of doubt, uncertainty, hopelessness is not unfamiliar. In fact, we know it well. We have been there. Hear me out.

Many, if not all of you, were newborns or still in the womb when, one morning, everything was normal, skies were blue, kids were headed to school, adults were headed to work. Within hours, buildings were falling in New York, planes were falling from the sky, and it seemed the whole world was thrown into abysmal fear. It was absolutely surreal. A moment, a day, a week, a year we will NEVER FORGET.

Every one of your parents can tell you their story. Allow me to share with you mine.

It was September 11, 2001.  My husband and I had just bought our first home, in a new town, where he’d just started what was to be a life career position in the travel industry. I was also working in the travel industry, as a contractor, leading groups of alumni and museums and non-profits on international travel journeys, and photographing it all. We hadn’t really planned to have children - we loved our careers, we loved traveling, and we were quite content. But with the joys of nesting in our new home, painting walls, decorating, new furniture… the inevitable happened, and I became pregnant. 

I was still just counting weeks (12), and had signed on with a temp agency. That week, I was filling in as an assistant administrator at an elementary school. I didn’t watch or listen to the news that morning. No sooner had I arrived and sat down, when frantic parents began pouring into the office to pick up their kids, hug them tight, and scurry them home safe. So much of the following hours and days are a blur, but overnight, my husband’s job came to a screeching finish. We had a new mortgage and a second, no health insurance, no stable income, and now, a baby on the way.

I’m not going to lie. We had a choice. We are blessed to live in a country where we do have choices. With no health insurance, no job stability, a mortgage and a second, how on earth could we even afford to bring a child into this world? And was this really even the right time?! I researched my options. I went to Planned Parenthood and talked to a woman who answered my questions and presented me with many options, one of them being information on a social services community benefit in this town that would provide free/reduced-cost pre-natal care and all related expenses through childbirth for residents in need. Thanks to the availability of this social service benefit, money, or lack thereof, became one less factor to worry about. 

The much bigger question, pressing on my mind, was, “Do I really want to bring a child into this world? Am I being selfish wanting to have a baby in these times?” My parents had passed before I even turned 30. My child would never know her grandparents. I missed my mother enough already, pregnancy only amplified that, now who would be there to support me and answer all my mothering questions? Sadness and fear set in and tried to take hold of me in my delicate state. Once it became clear to me that I had a choice, and it was entirely my choice, the decision was easy. 

I could choose fear, or I could choose faith. 

As someone who was not brought up to live in fear, (raised as a Christian Scientist to be perfectly transparent), I chose faith. Faith it was, faith it is, and faith it ever shall be. When I use the word faith, I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about pure simple faith - “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

Fast-forward to April, 2002, and our healthy beautiful baby came in to this world, along with the rest of you, the American highschool graduating class of 2020.

You were born during very uncertain times for our country. You are now graduating highschool and becoming adults at very uncertain times for OUR PLANET. You are not just facing an immediate health crisis, you are also facing an environmental crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a climate of racism, hatred, bigotry, and so many other problems we have failed to address effectively to this day. Pretty dismal circumstances to be sure.

But look. YOU are here. YOU have made it this far for a reason. YOU are an amazing generation of young adults with a perspective unique to others who came before. YOU have already taught us so much, from evolving technology to your eating choices to your ambitions in science, the arts, gender equality, human rights, animal rights, environmental awareness, and on and on.

I have faith in YOU. Just knowing that your generation is about to break through and take hold of the future is the greatest hope we hold. Fear doesn't stand a chance in my mind.

“But what can we do?” you question. You might be thinking “my voice doesn’t matter, no one will listen, I have no control.” While you have no control over events such as we’re experiencing now, and the poor decisions others have made and continue to make, you can still control YOUR attitude, YOUR personal choices, and YOUR action.

For our country, YOU will all be of age to vote in the upcoming Presidential election, and every election here on out (assuming our democracy endures). YOUR decisions  matter. YOUR vote matters. VOTE.

For humanity, YOU are already making incredible contributions and many of you are pursuing ambitious studies in health and sciences.  We need YOU. The world needs YOU. Now more than ever. 

For this planet, YOU are taking steps in caring about our environment - beach clean ups, recycling, home gardening, composting, choosing public transport, etc. - and you have a good understanding of how your actions and choices impact the global environment. I’ve no doubt YOU will develop solutions that generations before you have missed. This is a big part of why you are here. Our planet needs you here. Now more than ever.

YOU make your parents proud. We love you, we support you, and for what it’s worth, we’ve got your back. 

Don’t surrender to fear. Don’t surrender to blind faith, either. Keep it real. From great challenges come great opportunity. You will get through this, and you will enter adulthood with already an arsenal of experience, mistakes and successes, which you have learned from. 

Maybe not right now, but soon, VERY SOON, the world stage is yours. Take all that creativity, love, compassion and intelligence and grace you’ve got and show humankind how to well and truly GO VIRAL in the best possible way.

YOU’VE GOT THIS, CLASS of 2020!!!

With Love,

A proud parent who chose faith over fear

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