To the Class of 2020

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I feel for the class of 2020, I really do. Especially those graduating from high school. Everyone desires that their senior year be the best they’ve ever had and plans have likely been laid for a stellar year. The coronavirus, or Covid-19, has changed all that.

For one thing, the schools are closed in most places. In Georgia, schools are closed for the rest of the year. The spring sports season is gone. The planned proms are not going to happen. It is entirely possible that public graduations will be canceled. Those spring break getaways? If it happens at all, it will be radically different from previous years.

I can understand if students are confused. I am confused. How are grades going to be calculated? If a student was failing but had a chance to pull the grades up in these last few months, what will happen now?

If students were battling it out for valedictorian (something I never had to think about) how will the winner be decided? Will there even be a valedictorian this year? What about the spring sports athletes who were hoping for an athletic scholarship but had their season eliminated?

As one who is on the far, far side of high school, I have a few comments about these days. For most people in the Class of 2020, these potential memories would likely have been short-term anyway.

A few years ago, I discovered one of my prom pictures. There I was in my black tux with my very lovely date on my arm smiling at the camera. But I can’t remember if it was my junior year or my senior year. And whichever it was, I can’t even remember who my date was for the other one. In fact, I don’t remember anything about either prom except that I went to both and took a date.

I don’t recall who spoke at my graduation or what they said. If there hadn’t been a photo of me being presented my diploma, I might have remembered nothing at all. What I do remember is the day prior to graduation when we had graduation practice.

I was on my way to the 5,500-seat gym at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport, Tenn., wearing my cap and gown, when I was stopped by one of my English teachers. Mrs. Jean Massengill put her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “David, if you ever amount to anything in life, please come back here and tell me so that I can stop worrying about you and praying for you.” Okay, that I remember.

Graduation speakers almost always say, “These are the best days of your lives.” Well, they’re not. Your better days are ahead of you if you don’t screw them up. I truly enjoyed high school but I wouldn’t go back — not for anything.

My life does not consist of remembering high school days. Neither will yours. Will you have memories? Most certainly. Will you keep your high school friends for the rest of your life? Probably not. Life will move on.

But please allow me to pontificate for a moment (pontificate — express one’s opinions in a way considered annoyingly pompous and dogmatic). There are some truths that you will learn and the current situation may accelerate that learning.

Some thoughts: (1) You are not in control of events. For the most part, you never will be. Not global events, at least. You have no control over a pandemic any more than my father had control of World War II when he was in high school. There’s no use in fight or fretting about the uncontrollable.

(2) Even the best laid plans often go off the rails. All the work for track, baseball, golf, and whatever spring sport you played is not in vain. You just will not have the chance to compete like you thought you would. Sorry about those prom plans and the spring break that was on the calendar. It won’t be the last time that careful planning is all for naught.

(3) Life is not fair and is full of disappointments. If your parents haven’t told you that yet, they should have. Sometimes the best and hardest worker does not get the promotion. There are a lot of sorry singers who make records and excellent vocalists whose voice is like that of an angel who never gets discovered.

However, the life you are about to step into is full of opportunity for the people who look for it and are prepared. There are times you will fail and fall. But you will also rise and continue on. You will face obstacles but they can be overcome. You will have disappointments but you will also have amazing successes.

High school does not and will not define you unless you let it. Your life is not back there; rather, it is out there … beyond where you can see right now.

By the way, I did run into Mrs. Massengill some years later. She asked me to come and speak to her junior English class. On the day appointed, I showed up in my suit and tie, shoes polished, and full of confidence.

She ended her introduction of me by saying, “I asked David to come speak to you today because if he can make something of himself, anybody can.” I have never received a better or more honest introduction.

Your future is ahead of you. Go after it with all you have. Besides, you will have lived through the Great Global Pandemic of 2020 and have stories to tell your grandchildren. May God be with and bless you all.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

5 COMMENTS

  1. Right on David. These kids will remember something about their senior year being cut short, unless they lost a friend or family member and that’s different. For most, it will be a non-event in a long life.

    Having recently attended my 50th high school reunion ( and 25 years ago that one, too) I could not help but notice one thing. Some people peak early. Generally speaking, the football heroes, lovely cheerleaders, prom queens and other members of the in-crowd certainly peaked then, but not so much afterwards. The math nerds and other academics peaked later as some developed drug companies, early facilitators of the computer age, radio network owner, high profile attorney, etc. Many of the anonymous regular kids were widely successful in many fields – those I spoke to never really cared anything about high school or even remembered too much. Good reunion though – even with a cash bar. The class ahead of ours (1968) had an open bar.

    Far more late bloomers than early ones. Good to remember that.