My College:
Family Life

The Class of 2020 Showed Us What a Gift the "Lasts" Are

Elizabeth Spencer

When my first baby embarked on her senior year in high school, I got ready to cry.

I fully expected to cry. I do cry. I took appropriate precautions and wore waterproof mascara every time I left the house for any meeting, event or activity that could possibly be construed as "emotional.” I stashed travel packs of tissues in every purse and vehicle. I was prepared.

But I never did need the tissues or the mascara. Not on the last first day my senior would start and end at our house. Not when we ordered her cap and gown. Not when she played a six-minute solo during her farewell band concert while every other instrument accompanied only her. (Although, while I wasn’t crying, my husband did say I was squeezing his hand harder than I had when I gave birth to our future clarinetist.)

I waited for the tears through most of my daughter’s senior year and thought they’d finally fall at her actual graduation ceremony. Maybe “Pomp and Circumstance” would be their cue. When they didn’t show up even then, I warned my newly minted graduate I’d probably bawl during her last full-on dance recital. But no: I clapped and cheered and beamed without needing a single tissue.

When all was said and done, and we’d packed up the last graduation party meatball, I decided part of the reason for my unexpected (non) response to an otherwise emotional year was a mindset I’d had before with my oldest child: I’ll get to do this again.

Of course I know the future is promised to no one. Of course my children are distinct individuals who do things their own way. Of course I know thinking “I’ll get to do this again” is so presumptuous, it practically begs to be thrown a life curve-ball.

But the possibility of another go-around always hovered at the back of my mind and so now, as my second and youngest baby — a high school junior — peers around the corner at her senior year, I’m steeling myself for the last lasts. Not just her lasts, but my lasts as a mother.

The last last first day. The last walk down the track on senior night. The last dance team halftime performance. And eventually, the pile-up of last senior moments I experienced years ago but almost regarded as the opening night of a show that still had a long run ahead of it. Prom. Senior awards. A goodbye walk through friend- and faculty-lined hallways before she pushes open her high school doors and steps out into spring sunshine and her future.

Up until a month or two ago, I was looking at these lasts as something of a burden on my mom mind and soul. It wasn’t so much that I dreaded them as it was that they felt heavy, like something I was going to have to accept and shoulder.

But now, the members of the class of 2020 and their families have given me and so many other parents an expensive gift: an understanding of what a privilege the lasts are.

No doubt, these students and parents were only recently preparing themselves for a spring filled with lasts that were going to be hard enough — lasts that, out of nowhere, turned so much harder for not happening.

I can only imagine the unsettling sense of being thrown into a performance of an unfinished symphony, with unresolved notes hanging in the air.

There is nothing I can say to my brave teachers in a course they never even signed up to take, apart from “I’m so sorry” — and maybe this one other thing: thank you for helping me appreciate my 2021 graduate’s senior year in a whole new way.

Thank you for helping me see, through the lens of your unwitting experience, that these “lasts” are not a burden but a blessing.

Not a have-to but a get-to. Not to be endured but to be enjoyed. Not the end of something nearly so much as the completion of it.

To these parents, I assure you I fully understand that neither I nor anyone else who still has the luxury of looking ahead to senior year can give you back what you’ve lost. But we can honor you with what we still have to gain. We owe you that. It has cost you so much to give us this perspective; the least we can do is spend it wisely.

And so while I fully expect to cry during the lasts of my future grad’s high school senior year, some of those tears will not be for me or for her: they will be for you…the class of 2020 seniors and families whose lasts were plucked out of your hands by a pandemic.

Yet some of my joy will be for you, too. My laughter and applause will be my thank-you notes to you for helping me receive what I might have rejected...for helping me celebrate what I might have mourned. Because of you, I’ll view these lasts in a new light: as periods on the end of some of the most captivating sentences in a story that is, after all, always to be continued.

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection and brutally honest fashion advice. She’s been married for 26 years to an exceedingly patient guy she picked up in church. Elizabeth writes about faith, food and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and on Facebook and Twitter, and is the author of Known By His Names: A 365-Day Journey From The Beginning to The Amen.
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Michelle Pantoja-Hooley
Michelle Pantoja-Hooley
1 year ago

As a mother of a Sophomore in college and a graduating Senior in the class of 2020, I truly loved your article and yes I did cry. Remembering my son’s HS graduation in 2018 and at that time looking forward my daughter’s graduation. Things look a lot different now. And while not the same, we hope with some thought and creativity, to create some memories for her. Trying to be positive and remember that not having those celebrations doesn’t erase the years of accomplishments she has had. I shared your article (many many 👍🏼 and ❤️). Big thanks from all us parents of the Class of 2020!

Marva Smitj
1 year ago

Elizabeth, this is as beautiful as ever. Reading it made me think of the things I take for granted and the difference between 'have to' and 'get to'. So many are hurting over what feels like missed opportunities, which is quite understandable. It helps me to think of a question Michael Hyatt likes to ask: 'what does this make possible?'. Blessings to you.

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