An academic year like no other has come to an end and colleges and universities are celebrating graduates in a variety of ways. Some are hosting multiple small, in-person ceremonies to comply with social distancing mandates. Others are hosting larger ceremonies in stadiums and outdoor arenas. A handful are doing virtual-only, while others are restricting in-person ceremonies to just graduates while family and friends watch from a livestream. Regardless of how you celebrate the accomplishment, graduation ceremony is an emotional, moving, living event that is etched in memory. This year, especially, is no exception.
To all the graduates out there, it is my conviction that the broken routine of the pandemic taught lessons about what is important beyond the “classroom.” The pandemic was never about what you missed these past 15 months. It was always about what you can become. And if the past year taught you anything, it was resilience. Resilience is that quality which brings you back when injury makes you feel that all is lost— and how something horribly bad this year made you stronger for tomorrow and all future days. Pandemic restrictive learning gained you a deeper appreciation of your need to experience family, friends, events, travel and even the casual greeting of strangers on the street. Through it all, you embraced a spectrum of human experiences, adapted to changes and gained resilience.
Webster defines resilience as the power or ability to return to the original former position after being bent, compressed or stretched. We were all bent, compressed and stretched in 2020. Some of us lost loved ones to this vicious virus; others saw parents lose jobs, lose homes, and all of us were stressed to shift from the physical three-dimensional world to the flat screen virtual world. Yet here you are now graduates– from scholars to future leaders, YOU did it. You overcame the odds. You crossed the finish line and are proving to the world more than any other graduating class that you have what it takes to not only be resilient but to rise in the face of adversity and hardship.
Graduates, look at what brought you to this day. You learned alone and you learned together with online classes, independent studying, creative projects, virtual debates, practices, meets, games, wins, losses, fundraisers, job searches, interviews, meetings, and even protests. The pandemic did not erase your achievements. Nor did it destroy your spirits and talents. It simply diverted them to new pursuits like zoom conferences, online cooking shows, creative Tik Tok accounts, webinars, home econ, watching siblings, facing mortality and gaining an appreciation for life’s daily monotony and its tragic frailty.
You are a connected generation–now connected even more. Six-foot distancing and quarantines become disconnections only if hearts and minds define them as such. Stay connected. Continue to ask family, friends and loved ones with genuine concern “Are you safe? Are you sound? Are you whole? Are you well?” Because you have learned that human connections are above all and endure.
Keep learning. A great deal of education is about learning from personal mistakes and life’s curve balls. There is no success without the risk of failure; you cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism; you cannot have love without the risk of loss. Take risks and discover the world in new ways. Have faith. Have hope. You must believe that when one door closes another will open. And when you’re in the fog of the unknown and you cannot see what or where the next step is, surround yourself with the family and friends who endure. Push forward. Be robust. Be tough. Be gritty. Be hardy. Be resilient. When the storms of life keep coming and threaten to send you adrift, remember resilience. Resilience comes down to a simple test between you and your image in the mirror. Look into your own eyes and decide what values you will live by and how you will live your life because you alone are responsible for your thoughts, your actions and reactions. Though you may not have all the answers, listen to the voice of your heart’s knowledge and decide to root your life in justice, compassion and humility. You may feel compressed, bent and stretched, but resilience will be your lifeline to the future. You’ll bounce back not just to your original state but to a place that your wildest imagination could not even fathom. Trust your potential and your abilities, thank those who’ve helped you and be excited about what the new dawn will bring.