Everybody’s jumping into this game, from the classy to the cringe-worthy, and Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) cannot resist the opportunity to deliver a virtual address to the graduating class of 2020.

You were robbed. How you looked forward to your capstone year, the culmination of everything you had known since that first day when you toddled into kindergarten, that year of triumph, of prom and senioritis, that strange ‘disease’ in which you wonder why you find it hard to finish your classes and tasks, of senior trips (commonly called ‘grad bash’) and discipline assemblies during which principals did their best to intimidate you out of the traditional senior prank … oh, you could throw some toilet paper into the trees but oops, too many people are hoarding the rolls …

You can’t even walk the stage.

The feelings you feel … they are real. It is grief. You are grieving all that you should have had and now will never have.

Grief is a part of life and it is more than an emotion attached to death.

Humans grieve losses. Even in normal times, as you celebrate your achievement, you would find feelings of sadness mixed in. The friends you are saying goodbye to, the teachers who gave you advice and provided a foundation for your world, but it’s time to move on.

Every change brings the excitement of new possibilities, but the grief of leaving the familiar behind.

The pandemic of 2020 means that you have more losses and, therefore, more grief to process.

Give yourself grace. This is what it means to be human. Not only the triumphs and the exhilaration of wins, but the experience of loss and sadness.

But it is not the end. GOT remembers living in southern Indiana decades ago. Too many people were trapped in their past. Their life trajectories peaked at their high school prom and went downhill after that. Nothing else would compare, not even their weddings.

Don’t make that mistake. Life is full of possibilities and you must move forward to embrace yours.

What? Should GOT dwell on his prom as unmemorable as it was? The pictures were so awful that his date made a pact with him that we would bury them forever. No one will ever see … not even now, 40 years later.

Then there was the senior class trip. GOT spent a day with a friend, who quickly became a girlfriend, but the bus ride home in the dark < censored> disgusted his friends, hmm … too much information? Well, GOT had cut out another boy, who confronted him on the floor during the graduation ceremony … well, let’s just say no one wants to get into a fight when the Principal and Superintendent are ready to hand off the diploma.

Too much information? And yet, in the long run of a life well lived, it didn’t matter.

That is your future: a life well lived.

It’s not easy to see now. You cannot grasp that you are writing your life story, but you know what? You are your own author. If you don’t like a particular plot twist, you have the power to erase it and write something different.

You won’t remember me. That is the lot of a freshman teacher. No one ever looks back and says that was the one that made a difference.

It’s not important. I did it for you, but not to be remembered. I did it, as all your freshman teachers did, to provide a blessing that carries on long into the future: for your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren.

The world is out there. For my life adventure, it was a restless movement to Chicago, back to Silver Spring (Washington, DC), the land of my youth, out to French Lick, Indiana (oh, what a name!), down to South Florida, up to Kentucky, back to Lake Okeechobee, until I finally took root among you in Jacksonville.

Who knows where your adventure will take you? All GOT can tell you is that it awaits you and no pandemic will rob you of it.

Go forth, Class of 2020. Be the change that we’ve been waiting for.

Tomorrow belongs to you.

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