In about a month I graduate. This has been both the longest and the shortest three years of my life. I have learned so much about myself, both as a therapist and as a person. It was three years that have brought smiles, laughter, tears, and screams. It was three years of late nights writing papers, meetings with professors, making life-long friends, and finding a tribe that I belong in at Art & Soul.
The past few months have brought many graduations and a lot of mourning that actual commencement ceremonies could not be held. I share in this; I have an amazing family that made my graduation one I will never forget by holding it in their front yard, complete with speeches, a homemade diploma, and a borrowed gown, but I, like the rest of the Class of 2020 will miss the pomp and circumstance and the ability to say goodbye and have an official ending. So, either as a student or a family member of a graduate, what can we do to deal with the grief of missing out, while celebrating the huge achievement that has been accomplished – whether it is a master’s program, kindergarten, or anywhere in between?
Honor the graduate. As I mentioned, my family planned and executed a graduation for me, which was a complete surprise and brought tears to my eyes. That can be a lot of work though, and with the fears surrounding Covid, it may not be a possibility to have family gather. You can still celebrate your graduate though! Building a shadow or memory box with pictures and mementos is something they will be able to keep as they move on to the next chapter of life. If the graduate is over 21, pop a bottle of bubbly and toast to them (and if they are under 21, sparkling cider works just as well!) Conduct a “through the years scavenger hunt”, where the graduate has to find photos and memorabilia from childhood to present day. There are so many ideas that could be done in the world we currently live in, and all of them can honor and celebrate the graduate of 2020! (Even if graduation would’ve been in May or June, it’s never too late!)
It is okay to be sad. Remember that you are allowed to feel however you want to, and that can include sadness, whether you are the graduate or family. You have worked so hard to get to this point, and part of the ritual of ending school is the ceremony – walking with your class, going up on stage to get your diploma, flipping your tassel – and it’s not an option this year. If you are sad or angry, that is okay! Just remember to feel whatever comes up and then let it pass. Just because we can’t walk doesn’t take away from the huge achievement that we have accomplished.
Remember that even though you may not be able to have an “official” closing of this chapter, it’s okay to start the next one. A lot of my friends are feeling an emptiness by not being able to hug and shake hands with the professors and fellow students that have helped in our journeys. That void felt by so many graduates makes it feel very odd to move on to a new start. Instead of a novel, maybe life is more like a “choose your own adventure” book – we get to pick what we do. That may be going back next year to see your teachers and thanking them, or getting together with people in your class for a one-year reunion instead of waiting five or ten years. The choice is yours, which, when you think of it is actually super fun!
Draw, journal, take photos…The Class of 2020 is so unique – we are the first in a very long time that find ourselves in this situation. Why not document it all for future generations? It’s a great opportunity to save memories and have stories to tell kids graduating in 20, 50, or more years!
My fellow graduates, you made it. No matter what the future brings, you did this. You worked hard and you accomplished something massive – be proud! No matter how we celebrate, nothing can take away the fact that you earned that middle school, high school, college or more degree. I love this quote by the late, great B.B. King: “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”
Be kind to yourselves, friends.