Dear Graduating Seniors,
An important chapter of your life has just ended. Abruptly. You didn’t see it coming, you couldn’t plan for it, and you don’t know how to sort out your feelings. To put it lightly, you are devastated. I get it. You may be thinking, “How could you possibly get it?!” Well, roughly nine years ago, my senior year of college ended abruptly. Without warning. Without fanfare.
Most Alabamians remember April 27, 2011 very clearly. A massive deadly tornado tore through the state and hit Tuscaloosa especially hard. What a lot of people may forget (or may have never known) is what happened on April 28th.
The Day After
I was a senior at The University of Alabama, and I was sitting at the Newk’s restaurant right across from campus. Newk’s was one of the only places that had power and could serve food. My phone dinged so I checked my email. Per the university president: classes cancelled, finals cancelled, graduation postponed. And please leave Tuscaloosa as quickly as possible to clear the way for recovery. I imagine that the way you’re feeling now is very similar to how I felt as a graduating senior when I read that email. Shell shocked. No celebration, no long goodbyes. Everything just ended.
Mourn This Moment
Now let me be clear, you have much more to mourn in this moment than I did then. And I do believe you should mourn your losses. Missing final sports seasons, final recitals, final performances, proms, awards ceremonies, and graduation is no small thing. Cry about it. Scream about it (you aren’t supposed to be within six feet of anyone anyway). Journal about it. Talk about it. You must process this loss, or it will continue to eat away at you.
What to Consider After Taking Time to Grieve
There are a couple of other things I would like you–the graduating seniors–to consider after you take some time to grieve.
These losses do not define you.
And they do not define your future. Are you tired of hearing that? I’m sorry, but it’s the truth, and I’m speaking from experience. Yes, mourn the losses, grieve the losses, but do not let them consume you. You are at the starting line of your adult life, and you WILL have many more things to celebrate in your lifetime. I know that does not make this moment easier, but do not lose hope.
View these losses as active sacrifices.
After the dust settles, it is my hope that instead of viewing all these things as losses, you will view them as active sacrifices. I hope you will view the end of your sports season as a sacrifice that will enable your teammates to play healthily next year. May you see your lack of recital/performance as a sacrifice that will allow all the proud parents and grandparents to return next year to watch others perform. I pray you see the cancellation/postponement of your graduation as a sacrifice that will allow all your classmates to survive and receive their diplomas.
When “Sheltering in Place” Was Not Enough
You see, there was no choice in Tuscaloosa in 2011. The tornado came, and there was nothing we could do to slow it down or stop it. Our version of “sheltering in place” was not enough to save the lives of the six students who died on April 27th. Our graduation was postponed, but when it finally occurred in August, posthumous degrees were awarded to the families of students who died. Parents accepted diplomas for their children because their children were no longer living.
As it stands right now (at least to my knowledge), you and your senior classmates have been separated, but you are all alive. You are brave young people who have been asked to make a tremendous sacrifice by staying home. My prayer is that, down the road when all of this is behind us, you will be proud of yourselves. I hope you will look back and remember that this was hard but know that it was right. And I pray that the rest of us will celebrate and applaud you for starting your adult life with a decision and sacrifice to protect the vulnerable among us.
To the graduating seniors, the class of 2020: congratulations. I, in all of my insignificance, am very proud of you. ♥️