It should be prom season. It should be a time to celebrate college acceptances. There would be a countdown on to the walk across the stage before loved ones. It should be a time of mixed emotions of starting a new and exciting chapter and ending a familiar one. These should be the final weeks for seniors with their teachers.
For the Class of 2020, the reality is these teenagers are learning how unfair life can be at times. There is no way for them to control this outcome. They don’t know if they will return to school this year. We doubt they will. They don’t know what graduation will look like next month or June. The truth is there probably will not be one or it will look entirely different than any others. It’s a sad time for these young adults.
During this pandemic and the associated isolation, it’s easy to get caught up with our own personal struggles. We must not, however, insulate ourselves. We must not wear blinders to what is happening around us. We must be aware. People are hurting. Livelihoods are being destroyed. It’s a complicated and uncertain time. We wake up each morning hoping it was all a bad dream. It only takes a few seconds to realize it’s not. This is all too real.
We wanted to share excerpts from a letter to the Class of 2020 from Louisiana Teacher of the year an National Teacher of the Year finalist Chris Dier. The teacher understands what these seniors are going through because his senior year was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina.
Dear High School Senior,
This is supposed to be your year. The year for your senior prom, sporting events, cheer competitions, senior trips, clubs, and the rest of what senior year has to offer. You were supposed to be the captain of that team, the officer of that club, or that student who wanted to be with their friends one last year before venturing into the unknown. This was THE year that your entire schooling was building up to. But it was robbed from you because of this global pandemic.
Let’s be abundantly clear – you were robbed, and it’s unfair. If you’re upset, then you should embrace those feelings. Commiserate with one another. Some folks will downplay the situation because they won’t know what it feels like to have their senior year stripped at the last moment.
I, for one, will not downplay it as it happened to me. Hurricane Katrina devastated my community when I was a high school senior. I remember leaving my school on a Friday afternoon with my buddies only to never return to that school. I was supposed to be the captain of my soccer team, go to prom with my longtime crush, and finish the year with my lifelong friends. But it was all canceled.
Instead, I stayed in a shelter and finished my high school in a different state. It was tough, and I had to find solace in places I never envisioned. It was hard, but we made it through. And I’m reliving that pain as I think of your disruption to your senior year. … There’s nothing I, or anyone, can say to make up for that time you are losing in what is supposed to be one of the best years of your life.
But I can offer some encouragement. Right now, you have the power to make the most out of this unfortunate situation. If a decade of teaching has taught me anything, it’s that people your age are resilient and innovative.
Your generation can navigate multiple worlds and bounce between virtual and digital spaces with ease. You are part of the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, and you embrace those differences in ways adults seem to struggle. You courageously put yourselves out there for the world to see and criticize. You push boundaries and challenge norms.
… I can also offer some advice. Help one another and your family. They need you. Do your grandparents or your elderly neighbors need groceries? Offer support. Some teachers may even need your help as many try to transition to online learning. We need you. Utilize your tech savvy ways to bring yourselves closer together. Practice “social distancing,” or physical distancing, but stay as social as ever. FaceTime. Text. Tweet. Snapchat. Make Tik Tok videos (I don’t know if that’s still a thing so don’t laugh if I’m already out of date). Use these platforms to connect and uplift.
Binge Netflix and Disney+. Make memes. Exercise. Read books – maybe even those boring ones your English teachers were stoked for you to read. Or just read manga. Read something! Reach out to those friends you know don’t have internet access. Call and check up on ‘em. …
Lastly, I can offer some support. You may not know me, but I feel your pain; it stings. We as educators mourn with you. Again, you are not forgotten. We see your hard work. We value your unique perspectives. We hear your audacious voices. We cherish all of it, and we will continue to do so even from afar.
I am sad for you; truly, I am. I feel deeply for you; truly, I do. It makes my heart hurt as I write. But if there is any group that can plow through this in creative ways, it is your group. There is no pandemic strong enough to silence you or dent the passion of your generation. Keep your head up and keep fighting. Our country needs you because you provide hope for our future. This year may not be what you envisioned, but I’m eager to see what you do with it.
After all, it is still very much your year. Stay healthy.