“Mom, they are cancelling our classes. What if I don’t graduate?!”
The text from my daughter came through at the same time I watched it on the local news. Within seconds I started my way up the stairs to her bedroom. With a heavy heart, I prepared myself for the disappointment in her eyes. It didn’t work. There is no such preparation. Her somber face brought me to my metaphorical knees. Lost in her pain, I did what any mother would do. I cried. Alongside her, I cried.
Amid a pandemic, my daughter, who has had her fair share of troubles in grade twelve, was finally getting back on track. A few weeks before her world shut down, she was given the promise of time. Time to get better grades. Time to finish work undone. Time to fix mistakes. Time to be among her friends and say goodbye. Time to walk the halls of what is and was her entire social life for five years, one last time.
Among many other emotions, fear was her first. The anxiety of whether or not she would graduate tore right through her. Her first concern wasn’t if she could go to a party wearing a beautiful gown, but if she had worked hard enough to become a high school graduate. The loss of graduation parties came later.
As a mom, you expect to comfort your children. It’s your job. Scraped knees, re-peeling carrots that are “too carrotty,” broken hearts, the frustration of not making the volleyball team, failed classes, and car accidents are among the jobs my mom-resume wields. However, a canceled grade twelve school year due to a pandemic doesn’t grace the portfolio of tasks I’ve merited as a mom.
Within a few hours, the news broke: “All 2020 graduation ceremonies will be canceled.” My stomach dropped.
This time I waited for the text or the slothful adolescent steps to tread down the stairs. Nothing. Radio silence.
With my hand held tight to my chest, I started up the stairs to my daughter’s room. With each step, I thought of her milestones. Walking. Her first word. Kindergarten graduation, and what was once her favorite song — “Our song is the slammin’ screen doors…” Taking her for her driver’s license test. Her first car accident, and how she has become the best version of herself I could have ever hoped for. I wondered how I could possibly console her if I was inconsolable myself. Not only was I devastated for her, I too felt as if this milestone had been stolen from me.
As I approached her bed, I hoped my expressions of positivity would hold some weight. I am her mom; I am meant to comfort her. But nothing worked. There are no words, no hallmark cards for this moment. It was only three weeks ago the two of us were shopping for prom dresses. Just two weeks ago I met with her vice-principal to decipher a plan to help her get back on task. In a hot minute, everything in her world turned on its head.
She, too, is living in unprecedented times. Her entire world has been taken from her. For the past five years, she’s worked tirelessly toward graduation and its ceremonious end. There is no time to say goodbye to her favorite teachers; no hugs will be exchanged with the group of friends she’s surrounded herself with since grade eight.
There will be no cap and gown or stage to walk across while I ugly cry and the rest of her family and friends shout her name. She will not have the fleeting moments of embarrassment while I snap hundreds of photos of her and her friends, because trust me, kid, you are going to want these pictures when you are older.
There will be no signing of annuals in empty halls as classes come to an end. She will not have the memories of five years, forever penned by her classmates in her senior yearbook, to look back on.
To my daughter and many of the graduating class of 2020, it feels as though their time has been stolen. The time it may have taken to get up the courage to ask someone to prom or to reveal themselves to their crush. The time to fix a failing grade or make up missed classes. Time spent creating memories with friends while participating in “Senior Ditch Day” or creating the best senior prank ever is stripped from the finality which was their high school graduation.
Our children are mourning an unceremonious end to what has been promised as some of the best times of their lives, and I don’t blame them. There will be no crowning moment or serendipitous commencement speech leading them into adulthood. They will not be showered in their scholastic achievements while accepting their diploma. There will be no snickers or giggles in the crowd while inside jokes and memories are whispered as they cross the stage in their caps and gowns.
My daughter and the graduating classes of 2020 have been cheated out of the closure most all of us have taken for granted. Graduation.
As her mother, I too feel the loss of this milestone. Not too long ago we were shopping for her dress. When she stepped into the changing room, seventeen years of parenting rested on my shoulders and pressed against my heart. She emerged from the other side of the door in a ball gown, her face lit with joy and accomplishment, mine lit with pride. When I heard her ceremony would be canceled, this was one of the first thoughts in which flooded my mind. When she heard the news it felt her entire world crumbled around her. A lifetime of closure stolen. A rite of passage now dissipated.
I know without a doubt a global pandemic such as COVID-19 will disrupt my life, along with billions of others’ lives. As a grown-ass woman, I also understand my privilege in such circumstances.
Nonetheless, I live with a 17-year-old girl, and to her (especially in these uncertain times), losing her final year of high school to such a pandemic, which she barely understands, is devastating. Her heart is broken, and for more reasons than not getting to wear a dress at prom.