My oldest child is a rising high school senior. I’ll admit that I was relieved she wasn’t graduating this past spring. Oh, how I felt for all the high school and college seniors who didn’t get the closure they deserved! Surely things would be better by fall, I thought. 

Well, here we are. Covid-19 is spreading in the United States faster than ever, and parents and kids everywhere are wondering what this school year will look like. The uncertainty is perhaps the worst part of it all. 

To all you rising seniors – and your families – this is for you:

Dear Class of 2021,

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

We know you have looked forward to this year for so long. It was supposed to be THE BEST – the year when you got to rule the school as upperclassmen. The year when you were chosen as captains, starters, section leaders, drum majors, leads in the school play, heads of student government, presidents of clubs, speakers at assemblies, and so on. The year when you simply got to LEAD in every sense of the word – allowing you to find more confidence and self-acceptance than ever before. The year when you came into your own before you went out on your own.

But there might not be any sports to play. There might be no chorus or band concerts, no school plays, no assemblies, no pep rallies, and no Homecoming. Depending on how this year unfolds, perhaps Senior Prom and even your graduation ceremony are in jeopardy.

And the most mind-boggling realization of all: YOU MIGHT NOT EVEN GO TO SCHOOL. At least not in the traditional sense.

Our hearts are broken for you. 

We know this summer has been messed up, too. You were supposed to be visiting colleges and preparing for your future. Maybe you were going to work your first job or volunteer or be a camp counselor. But your job fell through and all the camps and volunteer opportunities were canceled. Now your college application isn’t quite what you had hoped it would be.

And those standardized tests. Those are still hanging over you. You might not have been able to take the SAT or the ACT even once yet. How are you supposed to know where you stand? Yes, more and more colleges aren’t requiring standardized test scores this fall, but what does that really mean? For those who were able to secure a score, will they have an advantage?

We know this is such an anxious time. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Once you complete your college applications, then what? It’s hard to know if you, as rising seniors, will have a harder time getting into college because so many current college students might choose to take a gap year or some time off. Will that crowd some of you out? On the other hand, perhaps it will be advantageous to be applying to college this fall – schools will need tuition funds, yet some students might no longer be able to afford to go.

There are so many unknowns. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

One thing that is certain is that this school year will be different. Virtual learning might shape your entire experience. At the very least, it will likely be part of your year, even if only intermittently. Wearing masks and social distancing will continue to be part of the routine. If sports are allowed, there might be no spectators – or with possibly just parents watching. The same will be true of any concerts, school plays, etc. Daily symptom checks will become a new normal, and absenteeism will be constant. Students and staff will need to be diligent about staying away from school with any sign of sickness or when possibly exposed to a carrier of Covid-19. Everyone will be on high alert. 

No one knows how the year will go. No one knows how next month or even next week will go! We have all been adapting to change and new recommendations at every turn since this all started, and that’s what is so hard. The unknown is hard. Uncertainty is hard. Being unable to plan and predict is hard. Can someone please just tell us it will all work out okay?! We could all use a little reassurance right now.

But we know there’s nothing that can be said with total certainty. We are hoping for a school year that can look somewhat like it used to by mid-year, but the reality is that things might not be any better by then. We just don’t know. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But here we are. And so the only thing we can do at this point is accept reality and move on, one day at a time. There are no easy answers right now, so don’t lose sight of the fact that those who are making the decisions are in an impossible situation. Be kind. And know that we feel for you – we know this isn’t how you ever imagined your senior year would look. It’s not how we imagined it for you, either. We have been guiding and supporting you since your first day of kindergarten, and we want to be celebrating this year and these milestones right by your side.

So now what? You are allowed to feel disappointed and wallow a bit. Let it out. No one says you have to plaster a fake smile on your face. But once you give yourself that time to feel, there’s really no other choice but to take a deep breath, collect yourself, and go forward. Lean on one another – while all of you seniors might not be in the same boat, you’re all in the same storm.

The way I see it, you have two choices: You can wish for what could have been and feel disappointed all year long; or you can accept and embrace what is and make the best of it.

I hope you make the best of it. 

That doesn’t mean you’re not going to have bad days throughout the year. That doesn’t mean you can’t vent and cry and feel like something has been lost. It just means you’re not going to let those feelings lead.

I hope you can focus on the good that could come out of this tumultuous time. As you’re about to head out on your own, there’s no better time than now to understand firsthand that life doesn’t always go as planned. We all need to learn to change course and adapt. We need to remember that when one door closes, another one always opens. And that sometimes when we feel buried, we come to realize that, really, we have been planted. What comes next is the time to grow and bloom.

You and your classmates will likely bond in a very special way this year, going through a year like this together as seniors. Just imagine the stories you will tell someday at your reunions! You just might come out of this closer than ever. As a group, you get the chance to be creative and find ways to make different memories (much like how drive-by birthday parades became a “thing” during quarantine). You get to find the humor in all this – the mask-wearing, walking single-file again like elementary kids, talking to one another through clear dividers, sitting six feet apart as if your peers have cooties. When it feels ridiculous – laugh! Humor always helps us through.

You’ll likely continue to spend more time with your family – with only one year left at home, I hope that will be viewed as a precious gift you were given, even if only in retrospect someday down the line. With fewer activities and events this year, you’ll have the time to reflect on what’s really important to you. As life eventually loosens up (and it will someday), you will have a new handle on what you want to return to – perhaps it’s not everything you were doing before. Maybe you decide to take your life in a new direction.

So even though this isn’t the year you wanted, what if it proves to be invaluable in ways you never dreamed? What if this unpredictable year changes you and prepares you for your future in a way that no other year could? As a group, your class might not be able to lead in the traditional sense as you roam the halls, but you do have an opportunity before you. You can lead by example by being resilient, accepting, and compassionate. And you can choose to be happy. After all, there really is so much to celebrate – you’ve been waiting for this year for so long!

Finally, look at it like this – no other senior class will ever have a year quite like this one. It will certainly be unique and memorable! This is still your year – the only senior year you’ll ever get. And now it’s up to you to decide if it will be full of complaints, regret, and frustration – or full of understanding, growth, and perspective.

You get to lead here with negativity or positivity – the choice is yours. And your parents get to choose, too. You can’t rewind or fast-forward, so this year is it. What you make of it – well, that’s up to you. Good luck, Seniors! This time is yours – make it count.

 “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way we cope with it is what makes the difference.” – Virginia Satir


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I wrote a post called “I Can Feel It Happening – My Daughter is Slipping Away” about my current high school senior when she was only 10. Oh, how I feel the words I wrote even more now! Click through here to read it.

You can find more of my “from the heart” posts here:

How Having One More Baby Has Changed Me as a Mother

Thoughts on Moving: Missing Home and Finding it Again

Hello Preschool. Hello Mom Freedom!

Thank You Could Never Be Enough: The Liver Transplant that Saved My Mom’s Life

Don’t Be a Hater: Support Your Fellow Women

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