“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!” – Dr. Seuss, ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’
I am sure that nobody who has read this Dr. Seuss classic, often quoted around now as graduations and end-of-year transitions are celebrated, could have imagined how different this time of year would look in 2020. Rather than drifting off to the places you’ll go, it can feel more as if you’re stuck in what Dr. Seuss refers to, in this same book, as “The Waiting Place…” (“… for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring … Everyone is just waiting”). Perhaps Dr. Seuss knew what he was talking about.
As I think about our community and the students who are graduating right now, I feel as though there is no better class of students to graduate into the chaos and uncertainty that fills the world right now. Generation Z, as these students are called, came of age with the Internet and social media, earning the title “digital natives.” Who could be better equipped to navigate the end of their high school and college courses virtually than these graduating students? Yet, this graduating generation has sometimes been pejoratively characterized as “sensitive,” prone to anxiety and depression. But is it any wonder? This is a generation who was born never knowing a world before September 11; they’ve lived through the financial crisis in 2008 and ensuing Great Recession; school shootings do not shock them; and now, on the eve of their transition to adulthood, they are inheriting the era of COVID-19. They’re missing the end of their senior year and all the milestones that come with that – proms, caps and gowns, graduation ceremonies. Perhaps what some see as “sensitivity” is actually resilience – taking in these grave global occurrences, internalizing them and using that to fuel their efforts in tikkun olam, repairing the world. Perhaps their role will be to lead the way to making the world a better place for all of us. Another hallmark of Generation Z.
For the Class of 2020, whether graduating from middle school, high school, college or even pre-K, your introduction to the next phase of your life amidst COVID-19 can feel unsure and unpredictable. Add social distancing to everything else that is unknown, and this time of your life can perhaps feel disheartening. It may not feel like much of a graduation or a milestone; but despite all of this, I encourage you to celebrate. You are among a generation of the most highly educated, diverse, innovative and adaptable young adults to enter the world. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Although the immediate outlook may feel grim, I have full confidence that you are a graduating class who has the tools and ingenuity to develop creative solutions that will lead the rest of us through these uncertain times.
“Kid, you’ll move mountains! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!” And should you ever feel unsure of your footing or not know exactly how to take that next step forward, remember that you can always come home to your Lehigh Valley Jewish community, where we will all be here supporting and encouraging you in whatever course you choose. Mazel tov to the Class of 2020!