To the coronavirus class of 2020:
Congratulations on your achievements. Obtaining a degree is a worthy accomplishment under any circumstances. But you completed your studies under the most challenging conditions. Senior years were disrupted, trips canceled, events postponed, goodbyes lost, and celebrations missed. You endured far too many Zoom meetings and online lectures. But you prevailed, and you are forever changed as a result of this experience.
As you reflect upon your significant accomplishments and the challenges of the past three months, I encourage you to remember these three important lessons:
First, adaptability and perseverance are learned character virtues that have served you well recently, and practicing these behaviors will continue to influence your lives in the future. Too often, we humans are bound by what we know, fenced-in by the things that are familiar. We know how to thrive in a world that makes sense to us.
I promise this pandemic won't be the last major-league curveball you will face in life. And even if you could shelter from the storms on the horizon, your ability to creatively explore new realities, to grow in unfamiliar settings, and to weather the most difficult challenges — the ones that offer no immediate answers — will not only set you apart, but will also make the world better in the process.
Second, you are not in control — at least not as much as you'd like to think. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that we control our own destinies. Sure, your choices, hard work, and abilities can significantly shape who you are and your place in the world. But all that can be lost in an instant. Talented people get downsized in recessions. Illness derails months of planning. Doors that opened to exciting opportunities slam shut without warning. So what do we hang on to? I encourage you to form your identity not by what the world thinks of you, or the success you achieve, but by the values and principles by which you live, by the ways you love and treat others, and by your commitments to serve worthy things that are bigger than yourselves. No one, and no circumstance, can take those standards from you.
Finally, relationships matter. Presence matters. We've been reminded of these truths during our social and physical distancing. Maybe Facebook and texting were enough before we were abruptly sent to our rooms, but now, how wholly insufficient electronic interactions are in sustaining us as humans. That's a lesson I'm glad to take from this season of isolation. I encourage you to be more intentional, to form and sustain human bonds once we are allowed to escape into the world again. To truly know and to be known — these are the basic elements of flourishing.
Once again, congratulations. I'm cheering for you. You have my trust and admiration. I can't wait to see how you will impact the world for the better. ♦