Note: Dr. Jennifer Lynch stopped by the Front Porch to share the following letter she wrote to her daughter who is scheduled to graduate from high school later this spring.
By Jennifer Lynch, Ph.D.
Unfortunately, you and your friends will not get to decorate the tops of your graduation caps. You won’t have to decide if the tassel goes on the left or the right. And you will not feel the butterflies in your stomachs while squinting into stage lights waiting to see if the class advisors actually pronounce every name correctly. And once it is over, you will not push through crowds of people to let us take picture after picture whether you like it or not. You will not throw your hats in the air, party through the night, or participate in that rite of passage known as “Senior Week” in Ocean City. This year- your year- will be different.
When I allow my mind to drift to all that will not be, my heart aches. At times it feels as if I can hardly breathe. But thankfully, you and your friends have been leading us out of the darkness long before you were even born. On September 11, 2001, I watched in horror as the towers came down. Like so many others who would soon experience the miracle of birth, I realized that your world would not be my world. I realized that your world was entering a stark new reality. Your world, our world, would never be the same.
I tried to whisper soothing lullabies for you, but they seemed to blow away on the wind. Instead, even as an unborn child, it was you who comforted me with gentle thumps and tickles from deep inside. You and all of your friends in the Class of 2020 taught us all that hope will indeed lead us out of darkness.
I wailed at Sandy Hook and Parkland. I turned off the television and tried to protect you from the madness, but the hollow promises crumbled and stuck in my throat. When I tried to talk to you about what to do during a school shooting, you cried and said, “Mom, you are scaring me.” But as always, you did not blink. You went to bed. You got up. You got dressed. And you went to school. You sent toothy selfies and emoji texts from malls, movie theaters and concerts. You made it clear: fearlessness is the only way forward.
So we weep over cancelled proms, empty stadiums, and un-pressed graduation gowns. I whisper reassurances that get strangled in our hugs, while you wake up, log on, and keep on working. You send pictures of colleges, internships, and job opportunities. You are in touch with admission offices hoping that your college dreams come true and that there may actually be a fall semester. Once again, you are teaching us to let disappointment slip by. You teach us that it is okay, no, that it is actually life-affirming to hold fast to the future.
From that September morning in 2001 to Covid 19, the signposts of your life have been defined by tragedy. And yet you are kind, resilient, serious, civic minded, and optimistic. You and your fellow graduates come in all shapes, colors and sizes. You accept. You don’t judge. You are unfazed by tragedy, and you never blink in the face of adversity.
You have not been immune to disappointment. You lived through these challenges, and they were real. They hurt. But it never took you long to shift the focus and lock in on your next accomplishment, on your upcoming journey.
As your mom, the fact that you won’t get to walk across that stage and celebrate your accomplishments feels like a crushing blow. But for you, graduation is a bang and a flash. It was an idea that quickly petered into smoke lazily drifting in the black sky – and you just don’t do lazy. You won’t stare into blackness for long.
You will move on and continue to offer us reassurance from the other side of the unknown. For what you have figured out is that we are not defined by any one thing, but by the sum of what we put into the universe. Like you have done from that first moment when you announced your presence with a quick and reassuring kick in my belly, you continue to teach us valuable lessons. I am so thankful that I get to be part of our journey- to be part of the next great generation. That is the true message of your experience. Everything else is just pomp and circumstance.
Dr. Jennifer Lynch is an elementary school principal. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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