Class of ‘20: Can you hear me now?
Thank you, Class of 2020! It’s an honor to be delivering your college commencement address, even with this awkward Zoom connection. Testing…
I’m sorry you and your friends won’t be partying tonight but, when you think about it, today isn’t all bad.
You didn’t have to rent the purple cap and gown that hasn’t been restyled since the school was founded in 1907. You avoided arriving at 8 a.m. in the parking lot behind the student union, only to be scolded by Mr. Walsh for being in the wrong alphabetical position.
You didn’t have to stand in the sun while Jessica Shapiro struggled through “God Bless America,” followed by Chancellor Botwick, who promised to be “brief” but spoke for 35 minutes about plans for the new science building that you’ll never set foot in. You missed hearing him say, “I’m proud to know each of our students personally,” even though in four years he never found time to meet you.
You skipped the humiliation of Dean Martin (hat-tip to Rodney Dangerfield) reading the names of 164 classmates graduating with academic honors, with your parents hoping you’d be included despite your 2.3 GPA.
You didn’t have to walk across the platform and shake hands with trustees who weren’t bothering with Purell. You were spared worrying if dad got those few seconds on video – considering that he was some 400 feet away on the school lawn using the flip phone he bought when you were in 9th grade.
You missed the awkwardness of introducing Ryan and Sakiko and wondering what your parents thought of his tattoos and her purple hair. You dodged having to answer questions from other parents about your future plans, considering that you don’t really have any.
Plus, picture this: the lawn is muddy. The punch at the reception makes you think of Kool-Aid, except that you’ve never actually had Kool-Aid. It starts to rain just as you and dad lug your stuff from the dorm to the car. Mom won’t stop complaining about what the humidity is doing to her hair.
Look, the saddest people today are your parents. They’ve managed to forget the awkwardness of their own college graduations. Or, maybe, they weren’t fortunate enough to go to college, and today was to be a combination of vicarious pleasure and parental pride. Give them a hug. Promise that when the pandemic restrictions are lifted you’ll find a way to get that cap and gown and pose with them, and that your sister will use her iPhone 11 Pro to take a photo for their mantel.
So, what’s your next move? If you can afford it, volunteer this summer: deliver meals, entertain seniors, offer to pick up and distribute books from the library. If you and your family need money, postpone your career goals for at least a few months and work on the front lines. Deliver pizza, handle the cash register at the supermarket or take a temp job on a UPS route.
I put on this suit and tie today to talk in front of my computer because I believe in you. I’m counting on you to see beyond the fear and frustration of the moment.
You knew that graduation would mark the start of a new chapter in your life, filled with mysteries and challenges. You understood that college prepared you for the future. You just didn’t expect the future to arrive so soon. Good luck.
Wait, what? I’m on mute?
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. He can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com
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