Replacing ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ with social distancing: A message to the Class of 2020

A message to graduating high school seniors — the Class of 2020:

Before we get to the reality of this moment in time, let me begin by saying: Congratulations on your graduation, it’s a great accomplishment and regardless of what is happening in the world around us these days, it’s a milestone in your life, one of a handful of events that you should cherish. And you will realize as you get older that there are only very few real milestone-moments in your life … and because of something completely out of your control, an unseen virus that originated thousands of miles away, you are going to lose one of them.

As we roll into the month of May, it’s unprecedented that schools across the nation are closed, caps and gowns are still in boxes and gymnasiums where commencement exercises would be held are dark. As seniors you have lost the wonderfully independent days of April and May, days that should have been spent with classmates you started kindergarten with 12 years ago. Sadly, shelter-in-place, social distancing and online learning have replaced “Pomp and Circumstance” and graduation joy across the nation.

Like virtually everybody, I feel sad, I feel bad and I am highly disappointed for you. But, with that said, there will be no weeping, no wailing and certainly no hand-wringing from me concerning this particular hand that you have been dealt. Instead, I want to use this message to point out that you have been given the priceless opportunity, at a very early age, to learn two of life’s greatest lessons. The first lesson is that life is not always fair and the second lesson is that things happen, sometimes bad things, that we have no control over.

Many of you have lived your entire life within the safe and secure walls of your home, your school, your church, your circle of friends and your extra-curricular activities and you have never experienced real adversity – adversity that is totally out of your control. Well, even though you’re only 18 years old, let me join with many other seasoned, old folks and say: ‘Welcome to the real world!’

I recently heard a person refer to the cancellation of graduations as a “tragedy.” Let me be clear with you, here in the real world, this does not rank as a tragedy in your life. A tragedy is a young couple being told their child has a terminal illness. A tragedy is a young person dying in a car accident. A tragedy is finding out that your young child has special needs that will require medical treatment the rest of their lives. A cancelled graduation is a disappointment. Understanding the difference between a disappointment and a tragedy will help you throughout life to sort through adversities that come your way – and they will come your way.

I believe this positive message I bring to the Class of 2020 is far more important than anything else you have learned in the classroom during your four years of high school and it’s a message that will carry you a long, long way in life.

That simple message is that what you do throughout your life with adversity, setbacks, problems and crushed dreams will either make you or break you. It’s very important for you to understand that you have only two choices in life when adversity strikes, you either curl up in a ball and cry about your misfortune and blame somebody else, or you square your shoulders, hold your head high, rely on every ounce of inner strength you have, trust in God and then use the setback, the problem, the adversity for motivation to move forward and turn an obstacle into an opportunity and a mess into a message. In the end you become the victor and not the victim.

There is an old saying that states: “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. In other words, it’s not about circumstances but it’s what you’re made of that will sustain you in every aspect of your life.” That last line is worth repeating: It’s what you’re made of that will sustain you in every aspect of your life.” If you take nothing else away from these words remember that previous sentence.

In closing let me offer a laundry-list of advice in no particular order – get a job, work hard, give back, don’t whine, ask questions … ask lots of questions about everything, be kind to others and be kind to yourself, don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled, have a purpose and understand that poverty of purpose is worse than poverty of purse, stand up for what you believe, say what you mean and mean what you say, assume nothing, learn to laugh at yourself, dream big, smile at people you don’t know, make your bed every morning because that way you’ve accomplished something before you ever get dressed, laugh often, do more with less, look people in the eye when you talk to them, remember there is always two sides to every story, never forget that you are capable of much more than you think and learn to accept responsibility when you screw up … and in case nobody has told you … you will screw up. That’s life! And last and most important … trust and thank God every single day – regardless of a lost graduation – because you have the world at your feet and the amazing good fortune to live in the greatest nation in the world!

God bless you on your journey Class of 2020, you ARE the future and we’re counting on you! There is a big world with unlimited opportunities and challenges out there waiting on you. Make us proud!

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