Opinion | A letter of encouragement to the Class of 2020, from a 2019 grad

SaMya Overall

SaMya Overall, from Lincoln Park, is a rising sophomore at Michigan State University.

Class of 2020, COVID-19 has stripped away some of the lasting memories of high school: proms, honors nights, senior all-night parties, and of course, commencement.

As a member of the high school Class of 2019, I know that I looked forward to these events throughout my four years of high school and especially during my senior year. Even now — a year later — I remember the excitement of counting down to prom, then the superintendent’s dinner (my district’s way of honoring the top 10 percent of the graduating class), and finally walking across that stage at commencement to receive my hard-earned diploma. 

I understand how frustrating it is not to experience those things. It would hurt to be in your shoes.

However, COVID-19 has brought about a unique opportunity for this year’s graduating class. You didn’t end your high school run like normal. And that, in itself, is valuable.

COVID-19 has taught your class to never take things for granted. Life can change at a moment's glance and how you react to that change will shape who you are. I — along with many seniors before me — didn’t learn that in my senior year.

Adaptation is one of the most essential skills you need once you enter the workplace. I’ll be the bearer of bad news: Your current plans will not stay the same. Multiple years from now, even next year, you’ll have to tweak things to fit your situation. 

I speak from experience. If you asked high school me what the end of my freshman year of college would look like, I would say, confidently, that I’d be on my way to working in New York City as a journalist. As I began to realize that I wanted to go into book publishing instead, I struggled with pivoting all my experience to my new goal. I’d never fallen off my plan in such a drastic way before and I didn’t know how to adapt.

But for the Class of 2020, that’s all you’ve been doing since early March.

Whether it’s having your own Zoom “prom” to show off the dress you spent way too much money on to not let the world see, or doing a virtual student orientation at your dream college because campuses are shut down, or even deciding to take a year off because you know you cannot start college successfully in a global pandemic, you’ve been adapting. And adapting is a skill best taught through practice.

So my heart is with the Class of 2020. Your senior year didn’t go as planned, not by a long shot. But in a way, I envy you. 

You’ll be ready when you discover your heart isn’t into the major and career path you picked early in your senior year. You’ll be ready when you realize that no matter how hard you try, you cannot seem to get a 4.0 in that class. You’ll be ready if you graduate college during an economic recession, like the college Class of 2020. You’ll be ready if and when you lose your job suddenly and have to make sacrifices to stay afloat financially.

You’ll be ready to change if that’s what life requires.

So I encourage and challenge the Class of 2020 to look for the silver lining of losing the end of your senior year. You may not have gotten to experience what I did just last year, but you’ve gained a skill that I had to learn later in my life.

Congratulations, Class of 2020. Take these skills, lessons, disappointments, and celebrations with you throughout your life. You made it through, even during this unprecedented time. That, in itself, is its own success story.

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