There are about 3.7 million high school students that either have finished or are about to finish their senior year. Some of them have been looking forward to graduation since middle school and sometimes parents and grandparents make big plans for the event as well. The fact that auditoriums and football fields will not be packed with family members and well-wishers as graduates cross the stage has not been overlooked. We see stories on the news and social media every day about graduates taking cap and gown pictures, parades of community members driving by with flashing headlights and honking horns, and one school janitor that is visiting the home, at least coming to the front door, of every graduate in person to congratulate them.
What graduates expect is to be sitting together in a large group of their peers on graduation night, excited and anxious about the future. What parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles expect is to see their graduate walk across the stage, shake hands with administrators and be handed a diploma. That’s pretty much what every high school and college grad has done for the past 100 years. Let me suggest something way out of the box here. If you were set to graduate in May or June of 2020, I don’t want to diminish the fact that you are missing out on an age old tradition. What you have instead is something unique. If you missed graduation for some reason while all of your friends and classmates were there without you, that would truly be tragic. As much as “we’re all in this together” has been repeated to death, that truth applies to every graduating senior in your class, and it always will. At your 50 year high school reunion in the year 2070, you will still be the class without a graduation. My graduation ceremony looked like thousands of others from the year before and the year after. What you share in common with 3.4 million public school students and another 300,000 private and homeschoolers is a unique experience. Your accomplishments are not being overlooked because of it. Family, friends, community members and even businesses and celebrities are going out of their way to make sure your achievement is recognized. And while you will not be on stage together, you share this experience with every other 2020 graduate. It’s not just your school or your state; it’s every graduating senior in the country. High school graduation in particular is a once in a lifetime accomplishment and yours will be distinctively different from years past and years to come. It is not what you expected but don’t dismiss it. You will meet people throughout your lifetime and have an instant connection with them when you find out that in some other city or state they too were a 2020 graduate.
None of us would have asked for a global pandemic. As much as I hate to use what is becoming a oft-repeated cliche, yes, we are all in this together. There have been 3.6 million American workers unemployed in the past two months. 1/4 of the restaurants in this country may close permanently. As stores and restaurants have been shuttered, city and county governments have been collecting much fewer sales tax dollars. That will lead to layoffs of even critical workers, such as police officers and school teachers. These facts alone are not encouraging to say the least but it is a shared experience we will work together to overcome. If you have parents or grandparents that grew up during the Great Depression then you know the effects it had on them never wore off. The economy recovered and eventually grew larger than ever before; but an entire generation learned to be frugal with their spending and plan for an uncertain future. It may have seemed funny that grandma kept money under the mattress or grandpa had a coffee can hidden behind a loose brick in the basement. It wasn’t funny a few weeks ago when suddenly no store in town had toilet paper in stock. The economic impact will be great in the short term but will not be permanent. Everyone alive today that’s over the age of five will remember the events of this time for the rest of our lives. These are the stories my daughter will tell her grandkids.
Times like these bring out the best in us. There’s your encouragement. Food lines are met with volunteers and donations. Churches are having drive in services. Patients are met by doctors and nurses, some of whom were sick themselves and recovered only to return to the very place that made them sick so they can help other patients. What makes iron ore of value is that it will become steel forged in fire. We are in the fire folks. But we will come out of this. To the Christian believer I offer a simple reminder: Life on this earth is short. No matter how many years we spend here it is a blip on the map of eternity. We consider the death of a child or teen tragic. But a long life is simply the slowest possible way to die. The only thing that really matters in the end is whether we are prepared to enter eternity. Spend this time with your family making sure they understand not just what is important but what is most important. Even in times like these we are blessed beyond measure compared to so many in the world and at other times in history. Count your blessings, thank God for them, love your neighbor. Do good. I know that’s not good English, but it is good theology.