An open letter to my class of 2020 graduates and their challenges

Last week you were part of something nearly miraculous. I’m writing so that when you feel like the world is hopeless and there is just no use trying, you can remember and keep pressing on.

For a while we thought graduation day would not happen for your class. When you left for home that random Thursday in early March you had no idea you would never walk those high school halls again. There was no prom, no sports, no final pep rally or yearbook signings. They set a tentative date for graduation in August but then there were rumors that you may just drive up and get your diploma in a gallon size ziplock bag. COVID-19 hijacked your Senior year.

Then the world was set on fire by the untimely death of a man named George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. It really wasn’t just about him but he represented all the injustice that people of color have been forced to endure. The realization dawned on us that America is not as united as we all hoped. How quickly we turn on our fellow countrymen when we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger as we diligently work together to ensure justice for all and domestic tranquility.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this, it was decided that you would have a graduation ceremony after all … outdoors, only two guests per student, everyone in masks, assigned seating, social distancing. It was so strange to see yellow slash marks painted on the ground from the parking lot to the stands of the outdoor stadium and red dots on the bleachers to signal appropriate separation. Unable to sit together with friends, parents filed in by twos like masked animals boarding the ark. We turned in health screening papers and our clear plastic bags for inspection; the entire process eerily quiet. Perhaps we were fearful of gathering during a pandemic or perhaps we were fearful of each other.

Before 2020, if I had been describing this scene for you it never would have occurred to me to point out the race of anyone, ever. But as the Black security guard warned me to keep a tight grip on my nice camera and a White police officer stood nearby with his hands on his hips, flashes of mobs in riots entered my head. For an instant, I tightened my grip on my husband’s arm instead of my bag. Then I remembered this was my son’s high school graduation. It was supposed to be a joyous occasion. Because of you, graduate, I looked up into the eyes of the masked security guard and hoped he could see in mine that I was smiling. I thanked him for being there and the little creases around his eyes told me I had brought a smile to his face and that lifted my spirits.

In the stands we were part of a diverse crowd; a Black family directly behind us, Hispanic to my right, Indian directly in front of us … all socially distanced of course, perhaps now in more ways than one. We sat quietly whispering amongst our pairs, shooting sideways glances at those of us who dared to remove our masks to catch an occasional breath. Still uneasy in each other’s presence. Until the miracle happened. You.

You and your classmates entered the stadium and the place erupted in cheers. Suddenly, we were no longer strangers but united for a common cause. We were all there because we loved a child that had just achieved greatness. Instinct overrode our previous state of being and we were all transformed back into parents and family. It was like the sight of all of you jolted us awake and we were able to remember the times we had been in that same stadium and cheered at football games or track meets. If we did it then we could do it now. For two and half hours, you and your classmates brought us all together in peace. When it was over we greeted one another as we left and wished each other well. Lots of wrinkles around everyone’s eyes said you had broken the tension simply by your presence.

You are the only earthly hope for mankind. You are the ones who will lead us all in the future and hold the power to be the change we so desperately need. You, graduate of the Class of 2020, will be remembered by history. We are so proud of you. When you feel discouraged at your seeming inability to change your world, remember that one hot summer night in 2020 when that was exactly what you did.

All my love,
Mom, Heather Blalock

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