I’ve had these words penned since your last day of classes, and I’ve been waiting until the day of your graduation to share them with you. Alas, since then, there have been so many words of wisdom bestowed to you, and what I have to say is nothing in comparison to some of the assurances and hope that leaders and celebrities have given you. I want to encourage you take it all in; hear it all; soak it up. The world is wild in brand new and terrifying ways, and you’re gonna need all the wisdom you can gather. And you’re not doing it alone; we’re with you, alongside you, rooting for you. (And figuring it out with you, too, to be quite frank. What day is it? What do real pants feel like? Will I have to wear them again? What if I don’t want to? How do you work a projector?)
Today you were supposed to hear your name called as you walked across the stage, decked in that grape-soda purple (or that fiery red from CV or black or whatever other colors there are at Elizabeth and Valor and Regis and Rock Canyon and… I don’t mean to leave y’all out, but my heart is purple, you know that). Your biggest worry was probably the weather—would there be rain, snow, or sunshine this year? No where in those options did we give the universe a choice for “global pandemic.” I repeat: NO. WHERE.
That music, your friends and peers, waving at your teachers beaming at you. Scanning the crowd for family and loved ones. Maybe you’d perform at the ceremony or give a speech. And when it came time to turn the tassel, you knew who you were going to rush to first, who you’d thank, who you’d hug! Hugs—real ones, like six-feet-less-than-six-feet-apart hugs. Photos. Cliché grad-cap-shaped confetti. Purple and black streamers. THE WORKS.
Or maybe none of that was even a thought; maybe you were just grateful to see your name on the list of graduates, to celebrate a moment you’ve been striving toward for four years. Maybe your celebration would have been small or nonexistent, but damn, you were happy to be walking across that stage anyway. At least you had that, you thought. Despite the stress and mess of the last four years, you thought, at least there was this.
And let’s be real: right now, some of you have more pressing worries than a postponed graduation ceremony. A loved one is sick, your dad is a physician, your mom is a nurse, you’ve been working full-time while trying to pass your classes, you’re taking care of your siblings or your parents. Maybe money is tight, or your parents’ business had to close, and–well, you’re worn out. And darn it, you worked hard for this, and now you can’t walk across the stage while a crowd of people SEES you, HEARS your name, and can say alongside you, “Yes, you did it! Despite it all, you did it!” Forget the party and the gifts–you just wanted this one moment.
I’m here to say alongside you: “Yes, I see you! Yes, you did it! Despite it all, you did it!”
So many of you have made the best of this because you are resilient and resolute and determined. You have a joy and a brilliance that I won’t soon forget. Selfishly, I wish we could be celebrating together because your joy and energy is contagious. (Y’all, I’m so annoyed. I had hoped to hug you, to hear your stupid jokes one more time. Sign your yearbooks. I wish I’d known the one last times were one last times.)
I have known some of you for years. Like, since your awkward middle school days—that many years. You have made me into the teacher, lifelong learner, mother, and human I am today. I have cherished watching you grow and learn. I had the privilege to teach some of you, to see you perform at assemblies, to watch you play, to see you sing or dance or act, to see you lead, to hear your names announced for awards. You destroyed room 215 during AA and ate lunch in my room, You made swords out of my Expo markers, hid my supplies on high shelves where I can’t reach them, stood on my desks and stuck your head into the ceiling tiles to see what was up there, and made weird Spotify playlists on my computer when I was out of the room. I discovered random inappropriate images on my chalkboard wall and white board too many times to count. Somehow, you hit your heads on walls because why not, and bounced my yoga ball off of one another. We laughed at the stupidest jokes. You asked for relationship advice, shared with me your heartbreaks and your joys, your failures and your successes. Some of you even have a growth chart on my wall, tracking your growth from your freshman year. I shared with some of you my father’s Parkinson’s diagnosis, and you said, “No! I’m so sorry, Mrs. Faletra,” and you meant it.
There’s more. Indulge me while I tell you and the world what you’ve done for me.
As sophomores—my second year of teaching—you pushed me to my limits and pissed me off and made me grumpy and ignored my instructions and asked dumb questions. But you also challenged and encouraged me and made me laugh, which is the greatest gift. You did stupid things, and I told you they were stupid and hoped you’d one day figure it out. I trust you have, or I hope that you will. (You know better than I which of those two statements applies to you. I am still and always will be rooting for you.) You taught me how to start each day anew, and you showed me how to toe the line between mercy and accountability and that maybe it’s okay to err on the side of mercy from time to time.
As juniors during my first year of teaching AP Lang, somewhat in over my head, you smiled and laughed with (and at) me. I was pregnant and nauseated all hours of the day and
probably definitely a little super-extra-weird and scattered, but you were funny and gracious, obnoxious and brash, authentic and eager—and some of the most brilliant, kind, and profound people I know. I’ll never forget the conversation we had after the STEM shooting tragedy; the room was quiet and heavy, and you trusted me and one another enough to be vulnerable and honest about the world, about its violence and your fear and our grief. It is a defining moment for me as an educator, a mother, and a human being. And it’s one of the things I reflect on when I hear people bash your generation; man, they don’t even know the magic, might, and moxie that you have within you. You humbled me and made me proud all at once.
I had a small number of you as seniors this year. But you confirmed what I already knew: there is a hope, an effervescent energy, intention, and momentum in so many of you that invigorates the stale dimness around us. The world is not ready. NOT READY AT ALL for the scholars and thinkers and artists and politicians and writers and athletes and teachers and doctors and nurses and more who are about to shake it to its core. And heaven almighty, do we need you. You give me hope. (And sometimes you terrify me. Y’all are weird and nihilistic and absurd.)
Be good people who do good things. Make mistakes; learn from them. Do more good; make more mistakes; learn; repeat. Because, y’all: to be human is to try, and trying is heartbreaking, backbreaking, uncomfortable work. Face all of paradox and mess head on—the nonsense and the knowledge, the fear and the certainty, the mediocrity and the wonder, the lies and the truth, the danger and the comfort, the struggle—and even the grief and the joy, which often go hand-in-hand. You’re not going to feel ready for it. None of us do.
But as our friends Elsa and Anna say, just “do the next right thing!” And then the next. And the next.
And when it all feels too much: rest, breathe, and reset. When you screw up, say you’re sorry, mean it, make it right, and try again. Then you’ll do it all over again. If there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned, it’s how to make mistakes, to say you’re sorry, and to get up the next day to try again, self-aware and sincere. I made many, many mistakes in room 215; I can only hope I was mindful enough to admit them, apologize, and try again.
Class of 2020, I love you. You have been a light and a joy for me in some dark and solemn moments. It was never your job; I never expected it. But whether you knew it or not, you encouraged and buoyed me when I needed it most.
I will always remember you fondly. Keep on being bright and luminous, authentic and funny, ridiculous and absurd, and willing and real.
Thank you. I don’t know what else to say.
Except that I miss you already.