I’m sure that many of you also know some graduates who are moving onto new adventures amidst the craze of this pandemic of ours. My nephew somewhat celebrated his grade nine graduation and he is moving onto high school (grades ten through twelve) in the fall, however that will look. Our neighbour girl, whom we’ve only ever seen from across the way, is graduating from grade twelve according to the sign out front of their property and some of my friends’ kids are saying goodbye to their elementary days (kindergarten through grade five or six here) and will be entering some sort of junior high/middle school experience come September.
You have to wonder what all of the children/youth must be thinking at a time like this when everything is so upside down. For most students, classes have been online for months now as school has been closed for the first time that I can ever remember. Upon first thought, it sounds like every kid’s dream come true. No school! Yay!!! But I think any feelings of elation were soon replaced by confusion, anger and sadness on missing out on friends and socializing/play more than anything else. For us as adults, the changes have been monumental over the past while, so imagine what it must be like for the younger ones whose sense of security and routine is dependent on so many things that COVID19 took away from all of us so abruptly. There are no words to describe it really.
While schools, teachers, parents and loved ones have done their best to help our youth ‘celebrate’ their milestones in unique ways via drive-by parades, virtual good-bye’s or socially-distanced parties, I would bet that it all still seems a bit unfinished in their eyes. I’m sure that many kids feel cheated out of their various passage of rites, particularly because they haven’t had the chance to take it all in with their friends which is such an important piece for them. Driving by your school to pick up your certificate with your family in the car for example, is not the same as the camaraderie and energy that you would find in a gymnasium or auditorium filled with soon-to-be graduates.
I know that at my nephew’s school, his grade nine class worked all year on various fundraisers to generate funds to put toward their graduation party only to find out that all of their hard work is for naught. At least not now when it would have meant the most to them, when they could have been with their friends and been there to support each other. For some kids who have spent years together in similar classes, their new stage of life might mean never seeing some of those people again, especially in the case of about-to-be University/College students, but others too. It’s sad to not be able to say good-bye in person, exchange a hug, shake a hand or give a friendly back slap or shoulder squeeze. A virtual wave or shout-out leaves out that personal touch that we all crave and need–there is nothing tangible to mark your words with when the screen goes black and you realize that the person is offline, that they are gone. Even if friendships continued online, and some might, it’s not the same as it would be in person. I think we’ve all learned that in not being able to see our own friends and loved ones in the ways that we are used to.
There has been some talk here and there that if students are able to return to buildings in the fall, some places will try to hold something for graduates, but if we are still social distancing and large groups are banned, it likely won’t happen even then. I feel for each group of kids who are in limbo between one phase and another, and I can only hope that they each manage to find a sense of closure to their last chapter and a sense of promise toward the new one that lies ahead even though it is still uncertain whether or not that experience will be first-hand or virtually. The summer ahead will be telling and numbers of those infected with COVID19 will surely dictate our course of action in the coming weeks and months. Going forward, it will be really important to continue to support and encourage those children/young adults who have missed out on such a key part of their otherwise celebrated transitions. While none of us know for sure when and how the virus will all come to an end of sorts, we will need to continue to show them what resilience is, what flexibility and adaptability mean, and how we still need to move forward one step at a time, despite challenges/obstacles that we are faced with, doing the best that we can at any given time. Valuable life lessons, virus or no virus.
For each of the graduates or farewell celebrants in our lives, we have reached out to try to do something a little special for each of them. For my nephew, we passed along a graduation gift and some summertime favourites of his–root beer and Pringles. For the neighbour girl across the way, we put an I-tunes gift card and note in her mailbox to say that we were thinking of her, and for some of my friend’s kids leaving elementary, I mailed out some cards and sticker packs. Just little things really for each, but we wanted them to know that even though it’s easy to get caught up in our personal woes, it’s important to recognize others during their times of struggle and/or to help others feel supported in their efforts which might not otherwise have been rewarded. Each graduate was grateful that we thought of them in return and little notes of thanks were passed along which also made us feel good. A mutual win that even COVID19 cannot take away.