Caps & Gowns & Pandemics: some thoughts
WTF people. Why do you put your kindergartner in a cap and gown? What have they accomplished, exactly? Become as well regulated in their toilet training as the family golden retriever?
I love when parents share (and overshare! Oh the shade!) on social media. I revel in making fun of these folx well before the cocktails begin to flow at ShropHQ, and the snark only increases with my gin intake. Life prior to social media seems sepia smooth to me these days in my memory of undocumented locker clean outs rather than today’s let’s pose with some certificates for mommy’s Instagram account.
I am childfree, of course, so I shouldn’t cast stones. And yet.
Middle school graduation photos are utterly painful. Parents don’t kid yourselves that this shit is way more for you than for your kids, who won’t realize until they are 27 that what they really should have gotten was a trophy for surviving puberty.
My favorites are the photos with grinning parents standing next to lackluster teens who clearly would rather be inside playing Mortal Kombat 42 in which they are getting their asses kicked by a 12-year old girl in Australia playing under the name KillSquadLeader6. Look closely; these kids have checked the fuck out.
Senior year final semester during Covid sucked so hard, and their faces show it.
Can you blame them?
I have been thinking lately about how lame high school graduation was for me. I was not exactly engaged as a HS student (cough cough), so it should be no surprise that I was disinterested in the ceremony that marked its end. I was off to Texas. Ready for adventure. I was so focused on the things ahead of me that I did not take the time to appreciate where I was in the moment. I was focused on getting out, getting away, starting my LIFE.
I feel this frustration bubbling in the graduation drive-bys and the Zoom meetings and front yard pics with social distance signs and grandparents hovering in the background in masks. Part of me enjoys how many people have embraced creative measures to impart a sense of ceremony on those who are being denied it through no fault of their own.
But mainly, it’s frustrating as fuck. My heart breaks for kids who really looked forward to all the frivolity to be had in senior year – the games, the dances, the ceremonies. Even though I didn’t give a toss, I know that many students want and NEED to mark this time and these achievements and are being denied it. No iHeart Radio concert or online address from a celebrity will replace senior prom or having your name called as you are handed that diploma.
For my part, I have taken to writing cards to the grads in my life.
It’s a small thing, but it’s all I’ve got.
I have no idea how these cards are being received, since they don’t contain cash. I get it. Most likely they will be trashed as soon as they are read. And I’m OK with that.
I have actually enjoyed writing them. I have to do them slowly, partly because I have serial killer penmanship, and partly because I want them to have the possibility of being impactful. Maybe, just maybe, a recipient will read the card and NOT roll their eyes at one more piece of unsolicited advice from an adult they aren’t sure remained sober enough (then or now) to really remember what it was like to be 17. After all, I sucked at high school, so who am I to give advice?
Maybe, I think wishfully, these few sentences will be more remarkable because I am no one special, nothing amazing in the world other than their friend. Maybe they will take these words to heart more than those from a 30-minute speech given by an important person in a robe – to a crowd of young people dressed alike in similar robes, extolling to them the virtues of non-conformity and being unique in the world.
And really? Does the class of 2020 need any pithy quotes about life and passion and the road ahead of them? In addition to Covid Crap, they are inheriting a shitshow of a country, which (in my humble opinion) is prime for a new revolution. One that is overdue. And it’s gonna hurt.
It’s a world in which Jurassic folks (my age and older) bitch about how lazy and entitled Millennials and Gen Z folx are while simultaneously watching them turn up in impressive numbers across the country to protest injustice peacefully, combatting rage and tear gas (and worse) and then show up again the next day, and the next week, marching for change.
Meanwhile, I watch some of the same proud balloon-waving Facebook-posting graduation-grinning parents bitch about having to wear a mask to shop at Target.
Pinterest-worthy quotes seem beyond ridiculous to an 18-year old who is venturing into this world of so much palpable uncertainty and strife.
So what do I write?
I try to write the truth.
Life is not going to go as you want it to go. Ever.
College might go on “hold” for a year – or longer. Many folx lost their jobs and tuition is no longer within reach. Do not blame your parents. Don’t whine; look for solutions, jobs, scholarships, and internships, ways to contribute rather than drain.
All things in your life are reflections of the choices you make.
If you want different outcomes, make different choices.
And for those still going to college, I say that college is probably not going to look like it did for your parents, so be open-minded and flexible. And if you are a first-generation college student, the road map for you might look like directions drunkenly scribbled on a bar napkin. But you can do it.
BE SKEPTICAL about the interpretations people give you about college, like:
College won’t have the same assholes that HS did (it certainly will – welcome to life); it won’t be as hard as HS (it will be, academically, emotionally, AND you’ll have to feed yourself); you’ll be fine (but you will have to readjust/expand your support systems in order to stay sane); we’ll always be here for you (we love you, but we’re turning your room into a home gym as soon as you drive away).
And in addition to being disabused of these notions, you’ll most likely be faced with social distancing measures that make dating seem like some bizarre game show from 1962 with designer face masks becoming a new mark of social status.
My (unsolicited, eye-roll inducing) advice?
Live your life by a compass not a clock.
Pandemic fallout might “take” a year from you, but that’s marked in time. Dreams are measured in distance. And just because you followed a winding path to get to your next goal (whatever it may be) doesn’t mean that you wasted time in getting there. The journey is as important (and sometimes more so) as the objective. It is a grave mistake to think that moving fast is the same as actually going somewhere.
I tell graduates that their education experiences are a grand dress rehearsal for life – a life that will be (at some point, maybe soon) ALL THEIRS to live. It is a great thrill and a crushing responsibility all at once.
I hear young voices every day in my work, the news, online, in discussion boards, and in my personal hemisphere. And they are, without exception, brave without knowing it, strong without being given a trophy for it, and they are discovering that passion and conviction can change the world. This, more than the gin and melatonin, helps me sleep well at night. The kids are gonna be alright. Hell, they might even save us.
Keep Calm and Be Kind