At just about this time last year, I was preparing for the graduation events at our high school. In our small town, in step with the rest of the province and nation, we were preparing for the pandemic version of a high school graduation. We believed that we were planning for a unique event, the likes of which we would not see again. We expected that the return to classes in September would look quite different from the norm, but never imagined that the restrictions and safety measures would last an entire school year, nor did we foresee a second graduation event under similar protocols. But here we are.
The old joke goes there are only two things in life which are certain: death and taxes. I would argue there are a few more certainties, but there is truth in the idea that little is guaranteed.
In this June season, there will once more be many speeches given about resilience and the ability to adapt. Change is inevitable and we are stronger for working through a challenge. While there is truth in these ideas, they serve as cold comfort when disappointments are sharp, especially for the young. And we are allowed to be disappointed: once more, the end to the school year is untraditional. In some respects, this year’s events will be subject to even greater restrictions and adaptations than those of last June. The celebrations of our students’ dreams likely took the form of caps tossed into a sunny sky before a cheering crowd, followed by an endless summer!
The term ‘virtual ceremony’ has become part of our vocabulary. Live-stream events and Travelling Road Show Convocations peppered the calendars of May and June, as school leaders and their teams made certain that this important achievement for our students was celebrated. So: where is the silver lining in this experience? Is there a life lesson worth noting? Perhaps there is, and it may not be the cliché or the most obvious message.
We envision the story of our lives, and expect the milestones along the way to take a traditional form and fit our narrative. The last year has shown us that every story can be rewritten. We have been reminded of the forces that are completely out of our control, which can appear, reshape and sometimes crush our plans and expectations. After thirteen years of school, one feels entitled to a graduation celebration. We’ve worked hard in anticipation of this day. Tradition dictates that our years of hard work and dedication are rewarded with ceremony. The unfulfilled expectation of our envisioned graduation is difficult to accept. We have earned our moment in the spotlight, and we may feel robbed of our due. Perhaps this is a good lesson, however painful, for us to learn.
Resilience and the ability to adapt are valuable qualities, and both may be gained in the wake of uncertain times. But humility is as valuable, perhaps even more so. To be humbled by experience is not a bad thing.
It hurts to be taught we are not the central player in the big picture, that we are elements of a grander storyline, and that it is not all about us. Humility calls upon us to reflect and acknowledge the greater good, the need to contribute and do our part in this world. Humility calls upon us to examine that which we’ve taken for granted, to adopt a newfound and genuine appreciation for what we have, and to understand we must feel thankful and not entitled. Humility teaches us humanity, and this world can do with a great deal more of that.
Class of 2021, your season of celebration is unlike any other in modern memory because it arrives at the culmination of an entire year spent learning and growing within a pandemic. This makes you and your achievements, the unfulfilled traditions, and this remarkable time in history unforgettable. Yours will always be the class which weathered a global pandemic; yours will be an international alumnus, sharing forever this unparalleled milestone on the brink of your adult lives.
A leader who lived long ago is credited with saying “There is no education like adversity.” Class of 2021, I believe you are graduating into the world with a unique education. I hope that you will carry forward the lessons that adversity has taught you.