20 Years Ago, A Serious Car Accident Took Away My Senior Year -- And I Have Advice For The Class Of 2020

by Valerie Goldstein
Originally Published: 
Class of 2020 Graduation Cap

As New York State, among many others, receives the news that school will not resume in person, mixed emotions flood our thoughts. How do we process this information, let alone our children understand? Many of us have never experienced this level of fear, uncertainty and disappointment before in our lives. So, I have this to say to my fellow New Yorkers — and everyone else who feels like they are stuck out at sea, in a tumultuous whirlpool of emotions.

To all of the children, teachers, and parents who end this academic year without any closure: I feel you.

I feel and fully hear you, parents; you are wondering if you are doing your best. You are wondering if you are a good enough home-school teacher and parent, while you simultaneously juggle work, dinner and mopping the kitchen floor for the fourth time today.

I feel for those sweet preschool children, who do not fully understand what is going on in this world, and they just want to put on their end of year play. I feel for the fifth grade students who will miss their last field day, fifth grade dance and moving up ceremonies. I feel for the eighth graders who will not be able to sign yearbooks, bask in the warm sun on their half days and attend their award and moving up ceremonies. I feel for all of the young children, yearning to see their friends and teachers again.

I feel for all of the teachers who are retiring this year; they no longer have the chance to embrace the students and faculty members who have become family. School for many teachers was a second home. I feel all of the high school teachers who long to hug their high school seniors, who will embark on their next big milestone in life. Moreover, I weep for the high school seniors who do not get to happily announce where they will be attending college, or given the opportunity to post their high school plans. I weep over how our young adults will miss out on their memories of prom and setting foot on their football field for graduation, for one last time.

I weep for you because twenty years ago, I felt just like you. The same April evening in the year, 2000, when I purchased my prom dress, I was a passenger in a head-on collision, leaving me an incomplete quadriplegic. I remember being the most melancholy 17-year-old no longer being able to take my AP exams, after studying for months and countless hours. I never got to attend my senior awards ceremonies and accept my awards for French and Track/Cross Country. I never got to wear my prom dress.

I was immobile, wearing a halo brace, wondering what it would have felt like to stand up on that stage and receive those awards, and dance the night away in my pale yellow dress. I still have re-occurring dreams to this very day about my last months of high school; I probably need the chance to revisit the closure I never had.

As a mother of three young children, I see firsthand the confusion, sadness, and emotions children are encompassing at this time. I offer my warm hugs, kisses and a listening ear, and hope it is enough. Not being able to fulfill your goals in the way that you had envisioned is depressing, and no one should invalidate your feelings.

However, children are resilient, and will come out of this stronger than any of us could have ever imagined. Children will learn patience and appreciate even more than ever the little things in life such as car rides and collecting rocks and flowers. Our high school seniors, who envisioned throwing their caps into the warm June air, will be adults, able to grasp hardship. They will already know to embrace life’s greatest lessons of not taking anything for granted and living in the present.

Yes, this is unfair. It is frustrating, heart-breaking, and yet, life will go on. Things could be worse, a lot worse. No, your children may not find closure in this academic year. On the other hand, the children whose parents were put on ventilators and then pass away at the hospital all alone do not get closure, either.

When life throws adversity at you, one must rise above it. Twenty years ago, I did not want to have to grow up overnight, and make adult decisions for myself. I thought that it was unfair that I had to choose a rehabilitation center for myself instead of choosing a college like everyone else. I thought that it was unfair that I had to decide upon life-threatening spinal surgery for myself. But, it had to be done, and it made me who I am today.

I thankfully have been taking this pandemic day by day, and know quarantining all too well. I believe that we, as parents and teachers, can show these kids that if they can get past this hurdle in life, then they can do anything.

Nothing in life lasts forever. Parents and teachers, let this be your teachable moment.

My young friends, radiate positivity and optimism even when the situation is gray and lonely. Life will sometimes have a wrench thrown into it. Some problems will be small, some will be gargantuan. That first job you land won’t be as daunting, and your dream goal won’t be as intimidating, because you are tough. You are strong.

Don’t ever forget, you have our love and support for the whole journey. If all we have is now, let’s all live in the now, and be grateful for what we do have: this exact moment.

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