What can we say to the class of 2020?
Photo credit Mountain View Studio
What inspiration can we give to the graduating class of 2020? They've been given a raw deal, losing out on the best parts of their senior year and facing an uncertain world without even the dignity of a proper graduation ceremony. I feel for this class, as my daughter is among them. An unfair twist of fate has clouded over one of the most important transitions in their lives.
Make no mistake about it, graduation is a huge deal. Our culture has gotten rid of many of the elaborate puberty ceremonies that once marked the transition from childhood to adulthood. For most, graduation is the only big event that truly marks their entry into the freedom and responsibility of being an adult human being. This years' graduates deserve better.
So here is my message to the class of 2020. Life isn't fair, as you now know, but how you react to that fact and the attitudes you carry with you will profoundly affect your future. You've worked hard, taken on substantial debt in many cases, and hopefully learned a few things. Pat yourself on the back for all your successes and sacrifices, and get ready for a bumpy ride ahead. You're going out into a diseased, scared, and uncertain world that needs your youthful energy like never before.
A worldwide pandemic challenges our very lives as you finish your studies. The economy is facing its greatest crisis in generations, and many of you will have trouble getting jobs in your chosen fields. Global warming looms to become a bigger problem throughout your lifetimes as the climate continues to change. Our country is more divided than ever and the simple concept of reality is up for debate. How do you go from final exams to this mess? There are two different directions you could go given this set of grim circumstances.
You could shrug your shoulders and conclude, "we're screwed", rightfully blaming previous generations for these problems and retreating into cynicism, despair, and hopelessness. Most of these problems are not of your making, and it's not fair that you got stuck with them. You could just give up and try to burrow deep down into your holes while the world gets worse around you.
Alternatively, you could look at this time of challenges as a tremendous opportunity. The winds of change are coming, and the class of 2040 will barely recognize the world we face today. Take this opportunity to cast off the limitations you assumed as a child or a teenager. There are no more fraternities, cliques, nicknames, teams, or grades that will define you going forward. You're facing a clean slate and a great chance to discover who you are and why you're here. Sure, there will be setbacks and failures, but if you make the choice to learn from them rather than letting them define you, you will discover yourself.
In 1932, as the nation faced the Depression, Governor Franklin Roosevelt addressed Oglethope University as its students graduated into a world of fear and poverty. Here are his words:
"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.
We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking! "
FDR would go on to be elected president that year and would guide our nation through its some of its darkest times with optimism, courage and innovation.
I regret that you won't get a proper graduation ceremony. You should get your chance to walk up on that stage, shake the dean's hand, get your diploma, and do a happy dance. You should have photos and parties and a proper goodbye with your fellow students. But as I said before life can be unfair. There's no one to blame here but you can still choose to make the best of it. Listen to the loved ones around you as they extend their wishes and congratulations this month. Reach out to your teachers and professors one last time if you want to get some closure. You aren't alone in this. Going forward, you will have your fellow classmates to connect with, plus a whole new world of leaders, mentors, and colleagues who will be there with you on your journey. Behind you, your little brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces will be looking up to you as their next role model.
Imagine yourself in a hallway with many doors and one window. The window, at the end of the hall, represents your childhood. Take a moment to look in the window and reflect on the fun times you had as a child- the friends, teachers, pets, and family members who guided you through that time. Look back from time to time to see how you got here. Maybe there were some sad and tragic events in your childhood. Those things also got you to this place, but they don't define you anymore. Release the past, forgive yourself, and look to the good things and people that made your childhood better.
Now look at all the doors in the hallway waiting for you to open them. Behind each door lies opportunity and risk. Some will be dead ends and some will be gateways to amazing adventures. This is what young adulthood is all about- opening doors, trying new things, and discovering what make you special. Your journey begins anew with graduation- this is an adventure and not a race. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, and always try to keep a growth mindset so that you can learn from them.
What's a growth mindset? Read the book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck some day and you'll see that there are two ways of looking at the world- a fixed mindset where all talents and abilities in the world are set in stone and determined by fate, and a growth mindset where almost anything can be changed depending on your dedication of time, effort, and energy. Now, more than ever, we need more young people with that growth mindset to shake us out of our faulty assumptions.
You may think that your days of learning and studying are over, but they're just beginning. I encourage you to keep learning, outside of the classroom, in the years ahead. Ask questions, learn from the successes and mistakes of those who went before you, read, read, and read some more. Never before in history has humanity had so much amazing knowledge at its fingertips. Take advantage of it.
Class of 2020, we wish you well as you begin your journey. Take what you've learned in school and expand up it a thousand times. Don't let the hardships of the world take away what's unique and special about each one of you. There is also great beauty, wonder and love in the world, waiting for you to discover it. Good luck.