Words of Encouragement to The High School Graduates of 2020 By Lorene King

Yes, it’s disappointing. This month, no one will sit on the edge of their seat, listening attentively for your name to be called so that they can jump to their feet, with loud cheers and shouts. No one will use their cell phone to capture memorable videos of you in colorful, flowing robes with cords, and matching hats with tassels. No one will see you wave your hand multiple times, or your face adorned with a proud smile as you strut toward the stage to claim your diploma. Nobody has to worry about anybody drowning out the announcer’s voice as the crowd erupts into thunderous applause, voicing oohs and aahs when they hear about your academic achievements and civic involvement—none of that.

There will be no outdoor BBQs with giant balloons or banners; no house parties overflowing with siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and other well-wishers who hug you tightly, shake your hand, plant congratulatory kisses on your cheek, and hand you gift bags or envelopes with checks. Your parents don’t have to worry about pleasing multiple palates of the guests in attendance—no need for restaurant reservations or driving around parking lots and hearing blasting horns. It sounds really sad, doesn’t it? So, how will you celebrate? I don’t know, but I know your family will find innovative ways to honor you.

My goal, initially, was just to purchase some ad space to read, ‘’CONGRATULATIONS 2020 HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES!’’ but challenges of a global pandemic and subsequent cancellation of many activities, including traditional graduations, called for something more. So, after much contemplation, devotional music, and prayer, I’m able to share a few more words than simply Congratulations, as well as a more positive message for the graduates and their families.

The traditional graduation ceremonies don’t determine what you will become in life. And neither will the coronavirus quarantine. Let this unusual turn of events be a catalyst to jumpstart your inevitable, bright future. Your future is our future. Our future is dependent on your hopes and dreams. A friend recently told me, “Celebration starts within before it becomes an outward emotion.” So, let this year’s celebration begin and let it begin within!

To help achieve your bright future, use this time to ignite your transformation from a high school graduate, still dependent on parents or guardians, into a self-appointed, evolving leader of yourself– one who will become a visionary leader. Try writing down your goals for college, trade school, or whatever path you have planned after high school. Make a vision board. Whether you use a poster board or a sheet of notebook paper doesn’t matter– what you write matters. How you feel and how you think matters.

List your goals. Begin your list with words like, “I will. . . , I want to . . . , or I am . . . Make the list about what you will accomplish (education, career, family, income) Be sure to add target dates and sign it. Now and later, what you do will matter even more than what you say. It is ultimately you who will determine what you become, and what your legacy will be—-not COVID-19. Share your list with someone who cares or someone you trust.

If you feel emboldened, share your list with me. Twelve months from now, when you have conquered your first year after 2020 graduation, let’s get together and chat. What kept you going? How did you overcome any lingering doubts? Let others know how you were able to overcome the impact of a global challenge, and still become what you are supposed to be, by being prudent, patient, and persistent. Join me in declaring the graduation celebration for the Class of 2020 will be a Lifelong Celebration. After all, your graduation day doesn’t make you; you make the day!

Editor’s note: Lorene King is a retired Assistant Director for student development from the University of Illinois College of Medicine, who volunteers for several community non-profit agencies. She may be contacted at lorene_king@hotmail.com