Dear Fellow Graduates of 2020,
Holy cannoli, we did it. Congrats, grads! I am so proud of each and every one of you, whether you graduated preschool or graduate school. Graduating is a major milestone to be celebrated. What we did was difficult and stressful, but we really did that! None of us expected life to look like it does today, but we continued to look forward and work hard to reach that glorious light at the end of this educational tunnel.
I do want to just acknowledge right now, though, that it is totally upsetting that the graduation we have now is not the pomp and circumstance we had expected and hoped for. Your feelings of disappointment are totally valid, and you are far from alone in them! You are completely and utterly allowed to be upset about this with no time limit. Transitioning to online education is hard enough on its own, let alone throwing a total loss of structure and new waves of daily uncertainty into the mix. It is seriously dope that you did this. I am so proud of you. I am so proud of us.
Personally, submitting my last paper alone at home really didn’t feel like this groundbreaking capstone to my graduate career that I was told I would get. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for isolating right now. As a high-risk person, I am grateful for all of the precautions and measures my university took to keep me and my peers safe. It just felt odd to end my program so simply, and I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there. Then I remembered the whole reason I went to graduate school in the first place – to prepare myself to change the world. We got our degrees, so let’s use them to make a difference. Let us not go into the world, celebrate this accomplishment, and forget to bring others up with us. Let me share an example.
This May, I graduated with my Master’s degree. Without being able to be in class with my peers for the last time made it really hard for me to understand what I’d just accomplished. You see, I have had many graduations in my life.
With each of those ceremonies, I found the acknowledgment that I was moving onto a new “chapter of life,” if you will. Unfortunately, there are so many students who were never able to see their graduation day in any form because they were taken by gun violence in schools. This is a fact that never left me while I was in school, so I made it my mission to dedicate my graduation to all of the students who never got the chance.
I, along with my best friend CK Smith-Kenny, worked hard to create a small website that had the names of all students that lost their lives to school shootings from the year I entered preschool to this May. I created a page with action items and information about how to help end the epidemic of gun violence as well and encouraged people to join me in donating to organizations working for the cause, such as March for Our Lives and Moms Demand Action. I decorated my graduation cap with a QR code, linking you to the website, in hopes that someone would see it and join me in making this difference as I walked to accept my diploma. As you know, that walk never happened. So instead of wearing it to my graduation, I wore it to the grocery store, on my daily walks, delivering baked goods to my friends at a safe distance, and more. I sent the website to every classmate, professor, and administrator I had contact information for and invited them to join me too.
I’m not saying by any means that we all need to commit ourselves to this one problem, but I do strongly believe it is our responsibility to use the education we worked for to help others. When this pandemic is over, no matter how that looks, it will be up to each individual to help reshape society, and we have so much to offer! When we use our education and experiences to address social issues, things get done, problems get solved, and lives get changed.
So, to my fellow grads, I want to offer again my most sincere congratulations. We completed education in one of the most turbulent times we’ve ever seen. Now it’s time for us to help others, pass the mic instead of giving a voice to the voiceless. You’re all going to make waves of kindness and change and I am so very excited to watch it all happen. Congrats, friends, now let’s do this.