Dear Grade 12 students:
You’re about to graduate in these most unusual of times. You’ve been called upon to sacrifice some of the things youth hold most precious—spending time with friends, playing on sports teams, competing in track meets, or participating in music, theatre, or dance performances.
Congratulations, I think.
You won’t get to go to a prom or walk across the stage at your graduation ceremony. At least not yet. You won’t be worrying your parents when you stay out all night celebrating the end of high school with your friends. There will be no dry-grad parties at your schools. I am sorry. You deserve so much better. This truly sucks.
You’ve grown up knowing we have a climate crisis that’s a threat to your future. You’ve lived through smoky summers due to wildfires. You’ve watched news reports of kids your age being gunned down in their own schools, and maybe you practised how to go into “lockdown" in case something like that ever happened at your schools.
You’ve learned that a belligerent, racist, egotistical ignoramus can be elected to an office that was once considered to be the leader of the free world.
You’ve had to stay home with you parents for almost two months. Two. Long. Months. You’re supposed to be thinking about heading out into the world and finding the path that’s right for you, but you’re told to stay the eff home, or darn close to it.
Now you’re being told that a loving act like hugging your grandmother could put her life at risk. Oh, and murder hornets are on their way.
You’ve been served a really crappy deal. There’s just no way around that. I’m sorry. I’m also sincerely grateful to you for the sacrifices you’re making to keep the rest of us safe.
On the plus side
Graduations are celebrations of completing a major stage of life as you prepare to begin another.
Once you get to actually leave the house, or your community, you’ll be heading into a world that’s being forced to change, innovate, and adapt at a rapid pace. The pandemic may have been tragic for some and economically or mentally devastating for others, but like most crises, it will present opportunities.
We’re going to be doing a lot of things differently, and it’s my hope that your education has prepared you to meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities presented as we figure out our new normal.
I can’t think of anyone better equipped to adapt to adversity and collaborate creatively to move forward, socially and economically, than the class of 2020. You’ve been preparing for this your whole lives, even if you didn’t know it.
We’ve seen some of the world’s most impressive young leaders emerge in response to adversity: Malala, Greta Thunberg, and the Parkland kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have been fighting for gun control after seeing their classmates shot and killed.
As a former school-board chair, I spoke at a lot of graduation ceremonies. I always tried to keep my remarks brief, knowing grads want to get on with celebrating with each other and not listen to some woman they’ve never met drone on about how they should pursue their passions, choose their friends wisely, and never stop learning. Blah-blah-blah.
The class of 2020 will be spared those tedious aspects of graduation, but you’re also being denied what the rest of us got to take for granted. That’s not fair. Much of the lot you’ve been served isn’t.
Some of you will have already bought gowns or suits for grad events and made exciting plans with friends. Hold on to all that and plan to have that celebration when it’s safe to do so. This, too, shall eventually pass.
In the meantime, just because you’re finishing your classes from your kitchen table or bedroom, or celebrating grad virtually instead of being physically with your friends, you’re still graduating and the future is waiting for you.
It’s also still a time for gratitude, despite how much it sucks right now. Whether you’re heading off to university (once it’s safe to do so), college, or some kind of postsecondary program; whether you have a job lined up or still have a few courses to finish up before fully graduating; or if you’re still thinking about which way to go, I know you didn’t get to today all by yourself.
So please take a moment to thank all those who helped you get to this point, whether it’s your parents, grandparents, relatives, or friends, along with teachers, support workers, counsellors, and whoever has had your back for the past 12 years as you worked your way through school.
I used to close my grad speeches with a quote from the Dalai Lama. "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito." I’d encourage grads to get out there and make some positive differences, large or small.
This year I’ll end with the wise words of our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, who reminds us often to “be kind, be calm, and be safe.” Pandemic or not, those are wise words to live by.
Good luck out there—once you’re allowed to go out.