Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
In the Blink of an EyeShari McStay
Ever since you started high school as a freshman, you’ve been anticipating your senior year.
It seemed so far away at the time, as if it might take decades to get there. The seniors looked so strong, so old, so wise and so confident, and you had none of those traits.
You looked up to them, admiring their leadership. Each year, you waited anxiously for your turn, eager to get to this coveted place and embrace the culmination of all you’d accomplished.
Your senior year was going to be the best year of your life so far.
This was the year you'd walk the halls feeling proud and confident in who you are and all you’d done. Your senior status would give you the best parking space, the best schedule, and the best of friendships you’ve grown through the years.
You'd make sure to visit your favorite teachers and coaches often because they supported and helped guide you as you grew into the person you are now. Those mentors made a deep and lasting impact on your life, and you cherish those relationships, knowing you may not see them again when you’re gone.
You would relish every event and opportunity, embrace your honorary role, and proudly stand on top of the mountain you had climbed with determination, endurance and hard work. All the countless special moments that make up the everyday life of a senior? You were going to savor each and every one, creating memories you'd cherish for the rest of your life. It was going to be YOUR YEAR.
But what you hoped would be your best year turned out to be your worst. What should have been a year filled with everything you've dreamed of and worked towards became one of the darkest years in history.
You'd been running the race with the finish line drawing near just to have it all disappear.
Your special senior year was buried under an avalanche of suffering and isolation, confusion and chaos. As each month passed, and each special event and opportunity was canceled, your hope of recovering any part of this year faded, leaving you mourning the loss of so much. All the time and energy you'd invested in past activities and commitments now seemed futile, those hard-earned chances to excel in your final year taken away from you.
This year is nothing like you imagined and now your graduation plans are also shadowed with uncertainty. The formal ceremony that would honor your class in a grand and extravagant way, with crowds of family and loved ones, may not even happen. Same for the festive graduation party you looked forward to planning, filled with people who matter most to you showing up with gifts and hugs and laughter and love.
There is no way of recovering your special senior rituals and traditions, all these long-awaited accomplishments and celebrations.
You can’t get this year back, and from the deepest part of my heart I say, I’m so sorry.
I feel your sadness, your frustration and your despair. You’ve missed out on the best parts of high school, and you feel cheated and neglected. It’s simply not fair.
But, dear senior, although your dreams have been stifled and your life limited, I want you to know that in the midst of it all, there's so much you have gained.
You may not be aware of some of these things because you’ve simply been struggling to survive. But it’s important you recognize the extraordinary lessons you've learned.
Through all the challenges, you developed new skills and garnered strength you would not have, had this year been what you had planned. It's grown you in so many new ways, matured you, and equipped you for your future more than you could possibly imagine.
You’ve learned how to manage a life full of continual adjustments and changes. You’ve discovered what resilience truly means, as you persevered through making hard decisions, realizing your choices could impact those around you.
You’ve grown in awareness and concern for those who have suffered and developed a deep understanding of what it means to sacrifice your own needs for the sake of others. You’ve had to surrender what was rightfully yours as you learned the value of doing the right thing.
You’ve found new ways to cope with the strong emotions that surfaced through so many traumatic events. You’ve withstood the surging emotional turmoil within, that at times erupted and consumed you. Many of those feelings — anxiety, fear, grief — are very new to you, and you've had to take on the arduous task of processing the magnitude of them all.
During this difficult year, you were forced to figure out how to take care of yourself as you traversed a harsh new landscape, your once well-worn path taking unexpected twists and turns. Sometimes you stumbled, but you kept moving forward, learning how to accept things that are out of your control and find fulfillment in new ways.
You may have scars that you’ll carry forever. You may have memories you’d rather forget and so many more you wish you were given the chance to create. But with each experience you've had to endure, dear senior, you've proven to yourself that you are a warrior — armored now with a wealth of wisdom and fortitude for whatever new battles may lie ahead.
I promise, what you have learned will benefit you in the years to come. The skills you’ve acquired will be of good use for the rest of your life. Because if there’s one thing this year has taught you, it's that hard things happen that are out of your control, and when they do, you must dig deep within yourself to find the strength to push your way through.
Nothing will ever replace the opportunities you couldn’t have. Nothing will fill the dark empty spaces that should have brimmed with grand plans, fulfilled dreams, celebrations, cherished lasts.
But dear senior, as you rightfully mourn all you have lost, please remember all you have gained.
And when you hold that diploma, whether it was mailed to you or handed to you in a drive-through at your school, whether you are commended in a packed stadium or in the confines of your home, please embrace it with the profound significance it holds.
It was earned through the power of perseverance, through the strength of resilience, and through the growth of perspective.
For you have fought hard to earn them all. These rewards will be with you wherever you go. You've accomplished more than any other senior in history. You have experienced the true essence of responsibility, accountability, flexibility and tenacity.
You may not have the memories of a traditional senior year and graduation but you've been given a different set of gifts. They will help you create a future full of hope, opportunity and great success. And in time, you'll begin to recover and rebuild a full life, with new highlights to cherish, as the world slowly recovers and rebuilds itself, too.
Until then, please know there are parents and teachers, friends and loved ones, cheering for you, celebrating you and commending you for a nearly impossible job well done.
Big choices — and big changes — are on the horizon for your senior and your entire family.