You remember their first day of school like it was yesterday. You stuffed their little bookbags with pencils and erasers and held their hand on the way into school or all the way to the bus stop. These 12+ years probably flew by and with them came hard exams, IEP meetings, friendships, and a lot of growth. Many parents struggle with their children's primary education ending and wipe tears away from their eyes as they watch their children walk across the graduation stage and into a new phase of life. This may not be the case for the class of 2020. This class has had to trade in their caps, and gowns (both graduation and prom) for zoom lectures and online finals. If you think back to your own last day of high school you may be able to remember how you felt walking out of those hallways you knew so well for the last time. Your life was no longer dictated by the ringing of bells and with the exception of a handful of friends many people who were daily facets in your life became merely a photo in a yearbook.
The class of 2020 doesn't have that surreal feeling and they probably never will. They were not aware that when they packed up their books to head home because of a virus that it quite possibly could have been their very last times in those hallways and with those people. A graduation ceremony is intended to celebrate the hard work that the students, teachers, and parents have put in. It ties a nice bow on the first two decades of your child's life and helps to prepare themselves for whatever is coming next. Without this, the class of 2020 finds themselves at the kitchen table submitting their very last assignment and graduating high school without neither pomp nor circumstance.
What makes it worse is the time of year that it hit. The last two months of senior year are what many students work the first 11 years for. All throughout school students hear stories of sports senior nights, prom, senior skip day, and more. These last months are not void of education but many schools use this as a time to really allow their seniors to make memories that will last a lifetime. A Montgomery County high school senior shared with us an internal struggle that he is having in his head; "It is a weird feeling missing out on what everyone reminisces on. Though it is very minor compared to what others are going through it still feels like I was robbed of memories."
College seniors are in a very similar boat. College is not cheap and can put a financial strain on the student and their family. Some students hold the distinct honor of being the first in their family to graduate from college. Minorities, immigrants, and low-income families fight very hard to give their children good opportunities, and their child walking across a graduation stage is much more than a photo-op. It is time to celebrate the sacrifice and hard work made by the entire family. The class of 2020 and their families do not get to bask in this celebration and mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents do not get to see their loved ones being celebrated. We spoke to a senior at West Chester University who mentioned that college itself had a very negative impact on her mental health. Anxiety and Depression plagued her during her junior year and she didn't know if graduation was something she would experience; for the first time, it didn't feel guaranteed for her. When thinking about how missing the end of her senior year feels she explained;
"Junior year was a time of loneliness and desperation. It was the first time it set in that it was possible I wouldn’t make it all. Pushing through and ensuring success was one of the most difficult things I had ever been though, and getting to celebrate that triumph was my driving force. Missing out on graduation was more than a disappointment, it was crushing and hurtful, and nothing will make up for celebration you expected. It was supposed to make it all worthwhile."
As for parents, the loss of graduation is just as gutwrenching. We spoke to Montgomery County parents who are very saddened to not see their last child walk across the very same stage that all of their older children have. They were supposed to have one more lacrosse season, one more set of prom pictures, and one more walk across that stage. "It's the missing of an exclamation point on top of the last 13 years of your life. The closure of high school relationships and getting to start new college ones," said the father. The mother feels a similar sentiment when explaining that she feels like although it does not compare to the people who have lost jobs, or heaven forbid loved ones in all of this her son has still lost a lot. "A lost opportunity to say goodbye to their teachers, a lost opportunity to celebrate with their classmates, no graduation ceremony to celebrate with their loved ones; it's a lot of loss for him."
For parents of children with social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges it is even harder. You have held your own in IEP meetings, advocated for your child to get the education they needed and supported your child every step of the way. You have had countless frustrating times trying to help your children do their homework at the kitchen table and have had sleepless nights worried about them and their education. This was supposed to be a milestone that you and your family have been reaching for since your child first started school and now there is no ceremony to mark that victory.
We want our families to know that what you are feeling is valid. You are not selfish to feel sad and angry by the loss of your child's senior year. While we encourage you to feel and express every emotion that you have we also want to remind you that you are not alone. The entire class of 2020 from coast to coast and all of their loved ones are feeling these feelings too. Ironically the world has never felt so connected and people across the country are doing what they can to make this time special for the class of 2020. Let's take a look at how people around the country are working to celebrate the class of 2020.
Here students utilized Zoom to hold their choir concert that was canceled due to the pandemic. Their extraordinary talents are inspiring to say the least.
John Krasinski hosted a virtual prom with some of his famous pals to try and make the class of 2020 feel like they have had somewhat of a prom experience.
Barack Obama announced that he will be holding three commencement events for the class of 2020. The first will be for students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). The second one will be addressed to high school seniors and the last one will be for the class as a whole. This will be streamed on YouTube and will have special appearances from a number of notable people ranging from Michelle Obama, to Oprah, to Alecia Keys, to some of YouTube's top talents.
Pennsylvania's very own Centre County is finding a unique way to celebrate its seniors. Bald Eagle Area High School has lined their streets with signs for every single graduating senior.
From us here at PA Parent and Family Alliance, we want to tell the class of 2020; Congratulations! Your hard work has not gone unnoticed. To the parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts, and uncles we want to say "Thank You!" for doing all you have done to raise our future leaders. While there may be no graduation there is definitely a reason to celebrate.