To the High School Seniors of 2020:
We are all so sorry that the graduation ceremony that was planned has now been canceled or modified, given the strict quarantine orders our country is under. Your moment to be embraced by and to embrace the friends and teachers, counselors and coaches, and the proudest of parents who accompanied you on this journey is an incalculable loss that we can only imagine. You have, no doubt, had to count it among so many other disappointments in recent weeks. This is not the kind of history any of us hoped to be making.
A global pandemic certainly puts the bookends on this educational voyage for you, which, for so many of you, began with the shattering news of September 11. You were just beginning your formal education when, no doubt, televisions were turned on and swiftly turned off, when voices in hallways were hushed, when hands were grasped and names were read and thoughts and prayers were lifted. You carried your lunchboxes in backpacks often too big for your frames, into a world whose conflicts were often too complex to comprehend.
Yet, you have grown up and found channels through which you could explore this wildly evolving world. You have studied and created and synthesized data that no one could readily explain.You have shown greater tolerance and kindness toward diversity in your peers as no generation has before. You have identified a culture of bullying and called it unwelcome. As one analysis finds, you have been occupying far more diverse spaces than your parents and grandparents could have envisioned for themselves. You are conditioned to dialogue, collaborate, and design a future that belongs to diverse stakeholders. You will be more capable of dismantling the systems and structures of oppression, simply because you are unable to imagine a world otherwise.
In spite of the hatred and violence the past decade netted us: record highs in violent hate crimes; negligent maltreatment of babies at our borders; mass incarceration, the Class of 2020 stared into the abyss and put its feet in motion. To the inexplicable violence that occurred in places like Newtown and Parkland, you taught us how to march for our lives.
Of the precarious climate into which you were born, you accepted no excuses from leaders who lacked a plan for action. Your voices have often been the loudest and your clarion call for decisive measures to curtail climate change have inspired a generation of leaders reluctant to use their power until now.
You could not readily participate yet in presidential elections and impeachment trials, nor could you cast a vote for the policy makers that will shape a future — one we hope that will not be saddled by student loan debt. Yet we are encouraged in seeing how voters just a few years older than you turned out to the polls in 2016. They were the only age group that increased its voter turnout from 2012. We also know, that 2018 mid-term elections bore witness to a staggering number of college student votes. The study found that 40 percent of eligible college student voters cast ballots, up from 19 percent in 2014. We hope that these years of preparation have helped you to decide the kind of person you want to be — and more pointedly the kind of world you hope to build.
We speak now in quarantine about hypotheticals and hopes, of how we will rebuild this world once all this is over. But it is you, the Class of 2020 who can best reimagine this new world. For you have had so little choice in how it was fashioned for you, but you have so often risen to the occasion of demanding change and putting forth the action measurable change required.
You will not get to walk across the stage to receive your high school diploma this year. But if you lean in — do you hear that? I hope you can hear our applause. You may not be able to see it, but we are giving you a standing ovation.