This week we received an email from our county schools superintendent. It read, in part:
Today, I have made the very difficult decision to cancel all traditional high school graduations. The UNF arena is no longer available and I believe our high schools need to be consistent in how we celebrate the Class of 2020. In addition, COVID-19 could still be a threat into the summer, we simply do not know. Your school will communicate virtual graduation plans as soon as they are finalized….Have a great Friday, and a restful weekend. Stay safe and enjoy your family.
Here’s how many high school seniors interpreted it: Remember how you got measured for your gown? PSYCH! You don’t need it! No walking across the stage for you. You won’t hear anyone using a microphone to announce your scholarly achievements. But maybe we can have a Zoom meeting to give each other virtual high fives!
Mr. Superintendent, sir, your diplomatic skills need work. Do you not have a PR person? Also, there was a comma splice in your missive. I realize you have a lot on your plate, but you should have summoned up a little more sympathy before you made that announcement. Still, the substance of it was valid. Of course graduation needed to be canceled.
Unfortunately, a lot of the students’ parents took as much offense as their kids. A Facebook group called St. Johns County Schools Senior Parents 2020 immediately popped up, and within hours had hundreds of members. They’ve organized a letter-writing campaign demanding that graduation ceremonies be “postponed” rather than canceled. The comments range from, “High school graduation is a milestone, like a child’s first words, first steps, first bike ride without training wheels, etc. I honestly can’t believe you expect us parents to be okay with this!” to “We are left to mourn a huge milestone and you just tucked that bomb in the middle of the email like it is no big deal. Then you end with have a great weekend!?!?” The word ‘devastated’ was used a lot.
I have a high school senior in St. Johns County. She is disappointed. So am I. But it stops there. Parents, your kids are watching you, and gauging your reaction. Traditional graduations last a couple of hours, right? They are loading those two hours with as much or as little significance as you indicate is necessary. And, pro tip: not much is necessary.
Have you not told your kids that life isn’t fair? Damn. Tell them now, for the sake of everyone around them: Life is just not fair. And I’m really trying to hold my fucking tongue here, because it’s truly a sign of privilege that in the midst of one of the worst things to ever happen in this country, you’re complaining because your kid won’t get to wear a gown and bask in the glow of an ovation. Honestly, if I was a single mother in St. Johns County who had just lost her job because of the pandemic and couldn’t pay this month’s rent, I would come key your car.
I feel like Brene Brown saying this, but it’s our job as parents to help our children realize that their accomplishments don’t need public acknowledgement in order to be valued. It’s our job to sit our teenagers down and say, “Honey, this is not going to happen the way we planned. But it’s still going to happen. You are going to graduate. Now, let’s figure out a way to celebrate anyway.” I can think of a dozen cool ways to do that, but parents need to find their way through this. Full disclosure: I asked my kid yesterday what would make her feel better, and she said, “A thousand dollars.” My husband and I looked at each other. “Okay,” we said. That was easy. Do we have a thousand extra dollars? No. But we can make that happen. We’ll save at least a few hundred by not celebrating graduation. Maybe she’ll take it on layaway.
Listen: our kids are entering adulthood in a strange and frightening era. Statistically, they will probably know someone who will get very sick or die from this terrible scourge. Really. Again – it’s not fair. But it’s life.
As for your own disappointment, parents, swallow it, for god’s sake. Cry at night in your pillow about it. Give your kids some time to mourn it – maybe a day or so. Then, move on. The world needs their brightness, their energy, their hopes and dreams of changing the world. Their self-pity – not so much.