This is not the first commencement address I’ve written in this space. It’s not even the first one appearing this year in CTNewsJunkie. But I feel the need to say a few parting words to the high school graduates of 2020 – especially this year. So here goes…
Congratulations, Class of 2020 – you made it! That prospect might have seemed in doubt these past three months when you haven’t seen the inside of a classroom. But you made it!
Learning exclusively through a computer screen was not what you expected when you began your senior year, but that’s how it ended. Somehow, it seems fitting that your particular high school years should end so erratically, considering the turmoil that has defined the world over the past four years.
Think about it:
2019: The U.S. withdraws from the Paris Agreement on climate change, Trump is impeached, fire rips through the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and 22 people are killed in a shooting at a Texas WalMart – in addition to 51 people killed in a New Zealand mosque.
2020: A global pandemic kills more than 430,000 people (and counting), and George Floyd dies of suffucation under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, sparking nationwide protests for racial justice.
This is the world you live in. This is the world that you – as young adults, members of the workforce, future college graduates – will be running soon.
Thank goodness for that. Because I’m not very proud of the current world that I – an adult, a parent, a teacher – helped to shape over the past several decades of your lives.
We seemed to be making progress. We did make some good-faith efforts to address problems. But the earnest belief in “hope and change” that came with the election of America’s first African-American president faded.
“Yes We Can” turned into “No You Won’t.”
But you don’t buy it. You understand that the world will not improve by going backward. You see slogans like “Make America Great Again,” and you think, “What’s so bad about it now?”
You’ve grown up at a time when diversity is the norm. You’ve seen same-sex marriage legalized and you think, “What’s the big deal?”
Most importantly, you’ve already begun to speak out.
Following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, dozens of students from that school were joined by hundreds of other Florida students who rallied at the state capital in Tallahassee to promote school safety and gun control.
Here in Connecticut, Lane Murdock, a fellow 2020 high school graduate from Ridgefield, dreamed up and realized the National School Walkout on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in 2018.
Put simply, your generation brings a fresh perspective to the problems of this world. Your generation is enlightened. Your generation understands that only by working together can we turn turmoil into tranquility – because your generation knows the “us vs. them” approach is not working.
You watch the president react to every crisis by deflecting responsibility or by insulting critics with juvenile nicknames, and you see them as actions of a desperate, out-of-touch septuagenarian.
You’ve had your fill of spite, discord, and death in your short lives already. You know that nothing good comes from meeting violence with more violence, or from adding more discord to existing discord. It’s time for a new approach.
So as you walk across the stage today to accept your diploma – or when you receive your diploma in the mail because social-distancing guidelines have canceled your formal commencement ceremony – think about what you’ll do next. Be bold in your thoughts. Break through the despair and uncertainty that has defined the world of your high school years.
It’s your turn now, your opportunity to run the world. Grab it, run with it, and do it your way – a much more unified and inclusive way.
No pressure, but your generation – represented today by the graduating high school class of 2020 – might be our last best hope.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.