Dear graduates of 2022
You have gone through something extraordinary: You have had the singular experience of completing your senior high almost fully online. For some of you, your graduation will be the first — and last — time you see your classmates and teachers in person, after years of looking at a grid of faces on your screen. In such a ceremony, I hope that grades take a backseat as you should be recognized for something far more worthy: You have overcome one of the more globally tumultuous periods of your lifetime. Despite all the odds, you have made it through. Around this time in one’s life, your biggest developmental challenge is your transition into adulthood. After high school, you expect your world to widen as you step into the world of adults, and you begin to determine the life you want to have. Unfortunately, the pandemic has accelerated this process, and it forced you to contend with adult problems way too soon.
The time of childhood is just as important to the process of becoming an adult. Children are at their developmental best when they are curious to explore the world. There is a sense of wonder when they experience something joyful for the first time. I always advocate that everyone, including adults, can benefit from a healthy sense of wonder and curiosity about themselves, others, and the world. The day we’re no longer curious is the day we stop growing. One of the universal heartbreaks of parents is seeing their children grow up too fast. The impact of the pandemic on our daily lives has realized this fear: You were exposed too early to the harsh reality of the human condition. Instead of curiosity and exploration, you were literally stuck in the confines of your own homes and prevented from experiencing the world. Your world became limited to what can be done through your screens. In the midst of a global crisis, your world shrunk to the size of your room.
If only I was a fairy godmother, I’d have waved my wand and brought you your childhood back. I’d wish for children to remain carefree and only worry about their circle of friends, instead of worrying about the fate of the world. I’d wish that the only planning you have to make is for the next sleepover, rather than planning around the economy and the job market. I’d wish for you to feel so assured of your safety that you no longer have to worry about it. I’d wish for you to look forward to the future, instead of dreading it. Moreover, I’d wish for you to regain your capacity to imagine the future. And hope. I’d wish for you to have lots and lots of hope.
What is ahead of you? It is easy to look into the future and only see hardship and struggle, given what you have gone through. You know too much now about the world for us to deny that those things exist. However, what you may have not yet experienced is how all things in life come and go. If love and joy can come and go, then so, too, does suffering. Nothing stays the same for too long. My dear children, you may have not yet felt the pendulum’s swing, and fear that things will remain as they are forever. Our only wisdom as adults comes from having experienced a longer passage of time and, thus, we take comfort that we can outlast the extremes of life. Trust us when we say that the pendulum eventually swings back, and the world will be in order again. The real challenge, then, is not the experience of struggle itself but in reminding ourselves that there is life beyond the struggle. Just like how it seemed that the struggle of high school will never end, graduation eventually arrives somehow. We are at the cusp of graduating from the pandemic, as well, and can finally begin living beyond it.
As you enter the next phase of your life, be it college or entering the adult world, new possibilities will present themselves to you. You will have the opportunity to learn new skills that help you gain more power and control over your lives. Self-determination, the right to determine your own destiny, is an important human right — use it well. As an older adult, I promise to do my part in keeping as many doors open for you. For the last two years, we have hibernated on our dreams as the pandemic forced us to be in survival mode. We have kept our goals and expectations at a bare minimum, as we conserved our energy in fear of new challenges that will come to drain us again. As we emerge out of this pandemic, let us wake up and start imagining the possibilities. Life is worth living when we can dream again and shape our own destiny.
Promise me you’ll enjoy these few months between high school and college, the time between childhood and adulthood. Don’t squander it by excessively worrying about what’s to come; your time is better spent on rest and recreation, far more and more precious commodities. Enjoy the world once again — it’s been long overdue.
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