Today someone from my daughter’s school came out to our house and planted a sign in our yard celebrating her as a 2020 graduate.
She’s just finished her senior year of high school, and after a lot of hard work she’ll graduate as valedictorian of her class. Her guidance counselor called and asked if we might take a picture of her with the sign to share on the school’s website and social media. I went to her bedroom to ask if we could take a picture, and she quickly said, “No.” I’ve heard similar stories from parents around the country whose kids have refused to help with school-sponsored “celebrations” of their graduations. Most translated that response as “ungrateful.” So I asked my daughter why she didn’t want to take the picture. She broke down crying: “I know the school is trying to help and make it better, but none of this makes up for what we have lost this year.”
Your seniors, and mine, are not ungrateful—they’re hurting.
Here’s what they’re missing:
- All the “lasts” of their high school experience—sports seasons, final day at school with their friends, school plays, and other traditions
- The prom many had already planned and prepared for
- Senior trips and special events
- Senior pranks
- A “traditional” graduation ceremony
- And finally, closure.
These kids are grieving, and no sign will make that go away. It’s NOT the same as missing Kindergarten or middle-school graduation, and they don’t how to process any of it. I keep hearing, over and over: “I know I should be okay with this, but…”
SO what can we do?
1. Give them permission to grieve—Don’t downplay what they’re feeling; help them to define their grief.
2. Support their family—Every teenager’s family is missing all of the “lasts,” too. They don’t know how to balance their own grief with the grief their children are going through. Give them some perspective on how to love on their kids right now, and invite parents to cry with you.
3. Don’t take it personally when your “awesome” idea falls flat—I’m hearing about proms planned and led by youth workers, and so many offering special care packages and celebrations for their kids. These are great ideas—but don’t take it personally when the seniors are still “flat” about it. It has nothing to do with you.
4. Don’t tell them how to feel—When you try to be helpful by offering things like—“You have a unique time in history, so embrace it” or “You were born in the shadow of 9/11 and you graduate in COVID”—you’re unwittingly telling them how to feel. They don’t even know what to feel yet. That’s okay, too. They’ll work it out over time.
5. Be creative—With a respect for pandemic restrictions and safety, send care packages, put balloons on their doors, and brainstorm other ways to do something ABOVE AND BEYOND. They don’t know it but they need you to do it. (Even though you may not ever hear them say thank you.)