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Graduation 2020: Celebration & Sorrow

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

Saturday I tuned into the graduation ceremony for the University of Virginia. Many moons ago I donned regalia and walked down that beautiful lawn with thousands of my academic peers to mark the end of my own college life. It was an emotional day. Saying goodbye to a place I had loved for much of my life. Saying hello to a future I yet could not fully imagine. Graduation felt really important and a more than a little overwhelming. Whenever tears flowed or nerves jangled; parents, grandparents, my brother, and legions of cherished friends were there to offer a warm embrace. We were all there together to mark the gravity and exuberance of this moment. Graduation as it should be! Today things are not as they should be. For the class of 2020, in colleges and high schools across America, graduation is just so different. Yes, there are speeches by celebrities, songs played by musical giants, words of wisdom from former Presidents. Lots of cool stuff. And yet.

For the class of 2020, the pomp and circumstance of marching with all your peers towards graduation is just not possible. Some ceremonies are postponed, others are streamed online, still others are having kids walk for their diplomas in auditoriums “filled” with only immediate family and one school administrator. There is no mass celebration, mugging in raucous groups for photographs, dancing the night away at huge parties, or heading to crammed beach houses to “unwind”. Jobs are uncertain. Plans are derailed. This is really hard! The weight of these times caused my college friends and I to “ugly cry” our eyes out as we cheered on graduates (my beloved nephew and cousin included) at the University of Virginia. The intensity of our emotions surprised us, but we rolled with it. Things are not as they should be!

The class of 2020 is launching in an unprecedented time. Cancelled celebrations, unclear opportunities, and lost assumptive worlds. Nothing is clear. No set end point. This takes an enormous emotional toll on the young. So, this month, please check in with your young people. Celebrate them: YES! Cheer them on. Reassure them that the world will once again find a normal rhythm. Encourage them to cherish all they have accomplished, reflect on the things they have learned, and take note of how they have grown. Remind them to stay connected to the people who matter most. Being positive is hugely important, but this year it is not enough.

Many mental health experts, myself included; say the US is on the precipice of an enormous mental health crisis. Anxiety, depression, complicated grief and trauma reactions all threaten. We should not ignore this truth. This year, alongside celebrations of our graduates, we must also validate angry, disappointed, sad and worried parts. Compassionately acknowledge that this IS hard, uncertainty sucks, loneliness hurts, delayed hopes and dreams are deeply upsetting. Tell our graduates and ourselves that it is totally OK to be upset! Wisdom is learning to honestly express the full range of your emotions, share with someone who cares, and find a path towards healing you can authentically follow.

Give your graduates the gift of welcoming ALL their emotional parts. The great news is that the “good stuff” (beauty, joy and love) is so much fuller when we deeply honor the “tough stuff” (anger, sorrow, fear). The pain of one reminds us to cherish the sweetness of the other. All of this can co-exist inside each of us. We can help graduates explore this truth. Let your young people know you are there, with an open heart and no agenda. Together explore the good stuff AND the tough stuff. Word to the wise. Listen. You can’t “fix” this. Listen, care, be present. That’s it. It is enough. Your presence will make a difference! Trust that your graduates will once again shift towards the hope and joy they will surely need to propel them forward in this weird new world order. They can get through this and so can you.

Quick Recap:

Check in with your graduates

Celebrate the “Good Stuff”

Validate the “Tough Stuff”


Offer Presence

Open heart, no agenda

Trust graduates will shift towards hope and joy

Trust that they can do this

You can too!

Finally, remember that sometimes young people will not open up to the people they live with or love the most. This is a normal part of growing up. If your graduate is struggling help them reach out for extra support. Therapists all over this nation are working online. We, at Healing Concepts, LLC, are here to help. If you or your graduate needs a place to safely untangle the inner knots of anxiety, loss, stress, and uncertainty; help is near. Call us today at 610-209-3111. One of our talented, compassionate and creative therapists will be honored to get you started finding your path to healing!

Bonus Share: Click here to enjoy a little music played at the 2020 UVa graduation. I hope it will knock your socks off as it did mine. Wahoowa! Congratulations to all the 2020 Graduates!

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