Octo Observations: Pomp and Circumstance à la 2020

A timely quote by President John F. Kennedy almost a half century ago resonates in my mind: “For those to whom much is given, much is required.” Oh, how prophetic it is when we think about our young people on the cusp of adulthood.

Who would ever believe six months ago that 2020 high school and college graduations would be postponed or cancelled with little or no hope of a bona fide ceremony for students? Such a disappointing time for American youth. We ache for these youngsters. Senior year is meant to be celebrated as a rite of passage. A monumental lesson in the unpredictability of life. One that will be forever remembered.

 It is now the 9th or 10th or is it the 11th week of Covid-19 social distancing and self-quarantine. People are getting antsy….cabin fever abounds. Slowly many states are loosening restrictions. Businesses are opening, stores are allowing a restricted number of masked customers to enter and shop, and restaurants are cautiously serving meals to reduced seating capacity. Many folks are still skittish about foregoing safety precautions. 

In Virginia, we seem to be greeted each morning with newspaper headlines that focus on the rising number of deaths in rehab and retirement facilities. Hardly comforting for those of us who live in one. We adhere to the rules. Of course, there are a few who think, “This won’t happen to me,” so they continue their (selfish) ways with little regard to the well-being of their neighbors. Apparently it is legally impossible to enforce the self-quarantine edict unless a facility is in complete lockdown mode. Verbal requests seem to be the only recourse, and even then, they can fall on deaf ears.

Anyway, the honor system is upheld by most of us. As we glance around the nation we applaud the millions of fellow Americans who feel as committed as we do. Someday this will end. Someday a coronavirus cure will be found. But until then, “Pack your parachute carefully” and stay safe.

Hardly anyone alive does not know someone who has a child due to graduate this spring from either high school or college. In our family our third and youngest grandson at Washington State University in eastern Washington receives his diploma in mechanical engineering this week. He has excelled in his mechanical engineering major, earning a 4.0 GPA which awards him Summa Cum Laude recognition! Kudos, bravo!

BUT! You know the story. No graduation.  Brad is part of a small group of fellow engineering students who worked for two years to design and build a robot in hopes of competing in the national television Discovery Channel’s BattleBots. Happily, this WSU team was chosen to go to Long Beach, California, in April to compete for a spot on the show. Cancelled. Now Brad and his teammates are told the show should be filmed in September. Another rumor is that the WSU graduation ceremony might happen on August 8. His cap and gown and honors colors are hanging in the closet.

The Wall Street Journal recently featured an article on the front page about “Colleges pushed to the breaking point.” Funds are in jeopardy as schools face “shortfalls because of unpredictable enrollment and market-driven endowment losses.” Even with ample scholarships private school tuitions are at the highest level ever. Consider this, too: How many young people want to continue studies at a college via online as they have for three months this year? Our two Elon University granddaughters have been home since March, learning online. Next week they must return to college for a quick trip to gather up their personal belongings. As of now, they do not know if classes will resume in September. And Caroline, as a Junior, is due to spend a semester abroad.

One example of changing concerns is Northwestern University ‘s offering many more acceptances than ever simply because the administration knows the limits of those who will be able to afford tuition at such a prestigious private school. Spending cuts  are in place, and only time will tell how vigorous our economic recovery post Covid-19 will be. My fervent belief is that financial security in the form of returning jobs and a vigorous stock market will happen only when a proven cure for the virus is sanctioned by the FDA.

Think, also,  of college seniors who interviewed and secured future employment earlier this year. In too many cases their offers have been rescinded. Our Richmond newspaper relates poignant stories about students from various  Virginia universities being notified that the jobs they were promised last fall are off the table. One College of William and Mary senior honor student, promised a job in the financial sector of Northern Virginia, learned the bad news via a phone call. “Sorry, no job. Hopefully this offer will be renewed as the economy turns positive.” Who knows how long that will be? Luckily, the newest recruits are usually paid the least. We cross our fingers that predictions of an effective antiviral drug, thus promoting  a strong fourth quarter will come true.

And how about the high school seniors who have looked forward to their graduations since freshman year? Another poignant front-page article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a New Jersey high school principal who “recently unveiled plans for this year’s graduation. It starts with about 315 seniors being driven by their parents or guardians to assemble in a procession…” lined up in their cars to receive “a diploma -cover” carefully handed over by the school principal. “A drive-by ceremony.” So creative and certainly better than nothing. But for many youngsters, a disappointing substitute. Statistics reveal that American High School seniors affected by the pandemic number up to 3.7 million.

No walking across the auditorium stage for anyone. No tossing of mortar boards in the air. Instead of all-night  parties, there will be at home cheers, family only celebrations, with ever mindful attention to social distancing. These high school and college seniors have been practicing that since March…their last semesters have been “cut short” of the traditional excitement and fellowship. We ache for them, but we applaud their ability to adjust, to move forward. They, like their older family members, have no choice.

Take heart! Something good will come of this besides a miraculously effective vaccine. For the first time in history, scientists the world over are working 24/7 on a common cause. My fervent prayer is for each wonderful young graduate to view life through a more appreciative lens. Many were born after the horror of 9/11. And if they were alive on that fateful day,  they were too young to remember the devasting attacks on the Twin Towers, the plane that slammed into the Pentagon or the sacrifice of heroic passengers who yelled “Let’s roll,” shortly before they died in a Shawshank, Pennsylvania cornfield.  

The protracted  wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been a nagging and tragic backdrop for so many years, but in general, our youngest kids have had it pretty good. 

Joy Nevin (center) at her high school graduation.

Sixty-five years ago this spring I graduated from high school in an elegant formal ceremony. As a student in a highly-respected private girls’ school in Ohio, I was lucky to receive my diploma in the outdoor amphitheater. A gorgeous June day.  In our living room, on a bookshelf is a prized picture taken by my mother of me with my two dearest friends. We wore long white dresses, each carrying a bouquet of red roses tied with green bows. In our hands were our rolled-up diplomas. We were so excited. To this day, I treasure that framed picture. My two precious friends have suffered mightily. One died at an early age of pancreatic cancer and the other lives in the memory unit of a retirement home in Virginia. We were in each other’s weddings…and our friendships endured during all the multiple moves I made with my husband and children.

Making close lasting friends early in life is timeless. Even though I only went to college for two years, I still  stay connected with two wonderful gals. We met on the first day of freshman year, lived in the same dorm, and clicked. Many decades have passed. Happily, throughout our multiple moves, in almost every place we lived, I was blessed to make beautiful lasting friends that will always be dear to my heart. The sad thing is that now, some have died; and at our ages the chances of in person reunions are slim to none. We are scattered hither and yon. That is a fact of life…..but with modern technology we can stay connected.

So what we learn is that young people, even at an early age,  can make wonderful choices: they can choose their friends wisely, decide their future goals and dedicate themselves to achieving those dreams. This sudden cessation of normalcy when schools and businesses are closed offers families 24/7 bonding time. Many jokes circulate about this phenomenon. Videos all over the internet show entertaining and creative solutions by families seeking convivial enjoyment together.

This virus caught ALL of us, our whole world, off guard. Maybe those living in the North or South poles have been exempt from worry, but every other country has been affected to greater or lesser degrees. Don’t you suppose that none of us, regardless of age, will ever take good health for granted again? And our young people whose 2020 graduations are unlike any in our history will have learned invaluable lessons that only life can teach? As older adults, we have faith that this generation will be solid, strong, and flexible. A new wisdom will emerge that hopefully acts as a beacon for more meaningful lives.

Just as the memorable quote by John F. Kennedy offers sage advice, so, too, does this one found in the Gospel of Matthew. It is my fervent and solemn wish for all promising young graduates in this unforgettable 2020 year:

“You are the light of the world…..let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Adversity breeds strength, and strength breeds wisdom.

Good Luck to each and every high school and college graduate EVERYWHERE! And remember also Shakespeare’s famous words: “The world is your oyster.”……embrace it!!

Good Luck, God Bless, and carry on with pride for jobs well done!

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock

Joy’s graduation photo courtesy of the author.