A Letter to the Class of 2020

Dear Graduates,

First of all, let me say how no words can alleviate the pain you may feel right now. It is real, it is raw, and it is perfectly understandable.

Of all the worries that you and your parents have had over the span of your life, having your senior year disrupted by a global pandemic was never a blip on anyone’s radar. In fact, if you’d written a fictional English essay about this just two months ago, your classmates may have laughed because it sounds far-fetched. Yet here we are, dealing with a reality that is stranger than fiction.

My heart breaks for you because my daughter is a high school junior. It’s easy for me to imagine how we’d feel in your position. In short, you’ve been sucker-punched, hit by a curve ball out of left field, and no plan B can compensate for how cheated you may feel to lose the final 2 months of your high school career.

Years ago, I sat in on a conversation between two young widows. One woman had just lost her husband, and her friend – years ahead in her grief journey – shared what another young widow once told her.

“When you grieve,” she explained, “you’ll often grieve in advance. You’ll feel sad because of what would normally happen this Saturday, yet won’t happen now because he’s gone.”

In many ways, this principle applies to you. You’re grieving your senior year – and every highly anticipated milestone. You’re mourning what was supposed to happen but no longer will: prom, awards day, senior banquet, senior trip, championships, banquets, senior skip day, college T-shirt day, touring your elementary school in your cap and gown, and – of course – walking across the stage at a May graduation.

Having it all ripped away at once is a lot to handle, and your heart may ache on each big day that passes. You may grieve in advance the dreams you highlighted and look forward to as your senior year began.

Complicating your sadness is our country’s somber mood and the serious health crisis that has people feeling rightfully scared, angry, sad, exhausted, panicked, and stressed. There is no blueprint for you to follow because never in world history has a senior class been dealt this hand, and what should be a time of joy, hugs, laughter, and confetti – your chance to shine and be singled out – is instead being defined by social distancing, quarantines, and digital connection.

Even the mottos traditionally shared with graduates – Your future is bright, The world is your oyster, Roots and wings, do great things – fall a little flat because the future is uncertain, you’re sequestered from the world, and your wings are temporarily clipped. Even graduation staples like Oh, The Places You’ll Go may hit a cynical nerve because you’re forbidden to go anywhere.

Yet here is the hope: You are young, resilient, and adaptable. You’re the leaders who may one day carry our country through an even bigger crisis than this. This heartache that’s shaping you can also mature you, and if your heart and mind stay open, you can emerge with a wisdom beyond your years and a life-changing sense of gratitude.

You can gain skills that allow you to thrive long-term: the ability to roll with the punches, maximize plan B, be creative when plans fall through, and not sweat the small stuff. Compared to this disappointment, many future letdowns will appear relatively small.

Again, I can’t erase your pain, and I certainly don’t want to diminish it, but I do have thoughts to encourage you as you head toward graduation.

1. Feel your emotions. Buried emotions always resurface, and if you aren’t honest, your pain or anger will leak out sideways. This current heartache isn’t the absolute worst thing that can happen to you, but it is incredibly sad. You have every right to cry and be upset.

After all, you’ve known your classmates since childhood or birth. You’ve watched each other grow up and played starring roles in countless formative memories. You had no warning about your last conversations and encounters, and while your instinct is to huddle, bond, and process, you’re limited to small interactions and required to stand 6 feet apart.

There are other reasons to feel sadness too: your sports team was on the brink of greatness, you worked hard to earn certain awards and graduation cords, you’re still waiting to hear from colleges, you wanted one more shot with the April ACT, you needed another great sports season to earn that college scholarship.

Right now there isn’t much closure or answers, so rather than torment yourself with unknowns, talk through your feelings with your friends, parents, siblings, counselors, and mentors. Have meaningful conversations that frame this heartache within the bigger context of life, faith, and truth. Today is part of your story, not the end of your life story, and while your feelings are important, they’re meant to guide you but not lead you. Just because you feel defeated doesn’t mean you are defeated, and even when God is quiet, He is still in control of your future and has plans to prosper you and give you hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

2. Keep a journal. A mom with a baby recently told me how it’s crazy to think that when her son is in high school, he’ll study COVID-19 in history class. He’ll come home with an assignment to ask his parents what this crisis was like.

I know many teenagers are keeping journals in hopes of becoming famous one day like Anne Frank, and if that inspires your virus diary, then go for it. Pour out your legacy on paper. An even better idea, however, is to keep a journal for yourself. Besides being therapeutic, journaling is a great use of time. It helps you admit what is hard to say out loud and sort through the tsunami in your head. Most importantly, you’ll want this record of how you feel because as all-consuming as it is, you’ll eventually move on and forget details.

Even 6 months from now, your perspective will be different. You’ll have worked through some worries and doubts. You’ll have more evidence of God’s hand in your life, and you’ll enjoy looking back to see where you started and how far He’s carried you since then. Faith is best understood in reverse, and only in reflection will His faithfulness grow more clear. The class of 2020 will one day have hindsight 20/20 unlike any other cohort.

In 20, 30, or 40 years, your journal may be a source for your kids or grandkids’ history papers. It may be a compelling source of hope when life lets them down. Reading about your heartache, and seeing how it didn’t thwart or interfere with God’s long-term plan for you, may equip them to face their own pain and better understand how all things work together for good for those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

3. Use this time to solidify your values, goals, and direction. Having 3 teenagers and 1 pre-teen, I see what our culture demands from you. From school to outside activities, everything you do is intense, and rarely do you have time to think, relax, and figure out what you want.

Many of you are cracking. You’re the first generation of teenagers to be more stressed than your parents. It didn’t surprise me in January when a friend told me that her daughter had 3 friends check out on the same day for appointments with their therapists. Apparently this is the norm, a tangible sign of our anxious, overwhelmed. distracted society.

But now, you can breathe! You can remember who you are – and who you’re meant to be. You can reconnect with those things you enjoyed as a child (riding your bike, making chalk art, jumping on the trampoline, starting pillow fights with your sister) and remember how it felt to not worry about what people think of you or whether you might fail. You can find the strength to rediscover your truest self.

For 7 years (or more) you’ve been immersed in a culture that pulls you every direction, and now that you’re removed, you can center yourself again. You can see what was and wasn’t healthy for you. You can firm up your values, listen to God, and think for yourself. At this crossroads, as you’re on the verge of freedom, is the perfect time to ground yourself in faith and find comfort in God. This anchor can keep you from drifting when life returns to normal. (Psalm 5:3, John 10:27-28, Hebrews 6:19) .

4. Remember God is found in the present. There is a holiness in today that can’t be found by looking ahead or looking back. One reason we miss God is because we get stuck in the past or fixated on the future. We dwell over what used to be, or worry about what may be, and miss His gifts today.

With the future up in the air, it’s easy to project and obsessively ruminate on all the “what ifs.” Yet I encourage you to not waste these months by missing God’s present grace. Stay mindful, be present, and take it day by day. Notice the blessings that are right in front of you.

That funny Facetime with your friend, that uplifting Zoom chat with your favorite teacher, that creative hobby you just discovered,that Tik Tok video you made with your mom, that 1,000-piece puzzle you assembled with your brother, that dinner in the yard as your friend cracked jokes about 6-foot gaps and personal space, those cookies from your Nana or flowers from your aunt, sensing God’s nearness as you sat still on the porch….these moments are your lifelines. They attune your spirit to God’s love and presence and add meaning to your day. (Philippians 4:6-8, Luke 12:25-31, Job 33:14)

5. Grow grateful, not bitter.  I recently endorsed an upcoming book, and one of the many phrases that jumped out was this: “Studies show Americans are the least happy we’ve ever been, and yet, we have everything we could ever want and more…We are classified as the most negative culture in the whole world. The ‘endless pursuit of more’ is killing us as we lack rest, peace. and joy.”

Our country is full of negative people who chronically complain. At your age and my age, it’s hard to not join in. It’s a battle we fight every day. I processed this truth a while back with a friend after spending time with a Negative Nelly who completely drained me. I’m really okay with venting – and trust me, I vent myself – but it’s not healthy for anyone when conversations stay stuck on negative loops.

My friend made a great point: “That’s why we have to be grateful, because If we’re not grateful, we grow bitter.”

Currently, you have many reasons to be bitter. You’ve been robbed of an experience that should be an untouchable rite of passage. Feel it and be sad, but don’t let your resentment grow. Work through it every day by praying for that grace from God. Do this for yourself and those around you so they don’t start to dread your company.

Yes, this situation is far from ideal, but you can overcome it by giving thanks for small joys, looking for silver linings, wrapping your mind around helpful thoughts, trusting God to bring good from this, and cultivating a grateful spirit that focuses on what you have, not what you lack. (Psalm 118:24, Galatians 6:9, Philippians 4:8)

I’m not worried about you, class of 2020, because our God is bigger than pandemics and milestones. Having faith in the midst of heartache is a breeding ground for miracles, and there is more to your story than what we now see.

So while I mourn with you and your parents – many of whom are dear friends of mine – I also have hope. You’ll get through this with grit and grace, emerging stronger and more determined on the other side.

And when the time comes to wear your cap and gown, whether at home or for a packed auditorium, the world will cheer you on. You’ll see friends and total strangers rooting for your success. I hope you realize then how the world is still your oyster – and you still have roots and wings. Your time is coming, and while you have to wait patiently before flying the nest, you can use this season to recharge, love your family, and grow a faith that can sustain you through the realities of adult life and every challenge to come.

May God bless you as you show us how it looks to have faith that moves mountains and peace that surpasses all earthly understanding. I’m thinking of you and look forward to seeing what your future has in store.

Love, Kari

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Thanks for reading this message today. Please share it on social media, or click over to my new Girl Mom podcast to listen to it audibly.

On Aug. 18, my new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter releases. Pre-order now through Amazon, and you’ll receive the lowest price between now and Aug. 18. Save your receipt for the amazing pre-order incentives coming in May.

I’ve also written two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, used widely across the U.S. for small group studies. To keep up with future posts from me, subscribe to this blog or join me on Facebook and Instagram. 

 

Posted by Kari on April 19, 2020

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5 responses to “A Letter to the Class of 2020”

  1. Michelle says:

    As always Kari….beautifully written. Thank you…..
    Michelle (grieving mom of Senior)

  2. Lena Powers says:

    Kari,

    What a beautiful perspective in today’s crisis. Never again will we have this much free time. While it its scary, I’m happy to see so many using it for God’s Glory.

  3. Donna Sadowski says:

    Thank you Kari. That was much needed. We have an 8th grader. Several school events were planned for her class their last 2 months together,followed by graduation.
    Like so many of us, my heart hurts for her and all of the seniors out there. I cant deny that I am feeling a little sorry for myself. Again ,we thank you for your inspiring words:)

  4. Allison Hendrix says:

    Thanks Kari for writing this. Sharing with Lily and her friends. Love you.

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