Guest Writer: Alyson Stoner
To The Class of 2020
There are infinite words of life wisdom to share in honor of your graduation. But words cannot express the mixed feelings in my heart for not getting to tell you in person. This is unquestionably a time of celebration, to gush over future possibilities and all you will accomplish. And, just as bright as the light of your achievement, is an unexpectedly dark shadow that is currently cast over the globe by a pandemic inciting doubt and fear over what tomorrow brings.
We could never have imagined that the final days of your senior year would be spent in self-quarantine, apart from your friends and classmates. Like generations before whose graduation collided with events of epic proportions, you are stepping into a world trying to define a new normal. How you perceive, interpret and navigate this timeframe- in all its obstacles and opportunities- will shape both the present and future for yourself and the world around you.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that as the class of 2020, you’re seeing how crucial it is to develop 20/20 vision for your life. Just like 20/20 eyesight implies sharp, clear, high-definition views, you are getting a firsthand, vivid and very unique perspective of the world, our country, your community and your roles. You are seeing life in its many dimensions and layers, where moments aren’t Either one thing Or another, but Both things And plenty more simultaneously. For example, there are BOTH huge grounds for applauding your hard work to reach this milestone, AND frustration that commencements have been cancelled and postponed.
Everywhere you turn you’ll find this BOTH-AND paradigm held as a tension in our hearts. Throughout the world, there is BOTH triumph in essential workers becoming everyday heroes as well as our staying home flattening the curve to save lives, AND there is grief as loved ones succumb to disease and businesses close their doors.
There is BOTH courage by the medical professionals valiantly fighting on the frontlines of this pandemic war, AND uncertainty over the short- and long-term impact on jobs, communities, and the economy.
There is BOTH unity in neighbors looking out for another, AND division from political differences and borders being shut down.
And we all act as BOTH an individual doing our part independently AND a human team working together as a whole.
With this kind of vision, one truth does not need to cancel out the other, nor minimize it. Instead, they can inform, balance and even refine each other, just like when we look inside, we may discover many parts of ourselves that seem contradictory or confusing, but somehow they all make up the one-of-a-kind mosaic of who we are.
Let’s not diminish the many obstacles and hurdles you’ve already overcome, because they can inspire appreciation for such positive and admirable feats like your graduation, even as new challenges arise in real time. And all the strength and skills you’ve learned so far will continue to assist you in the coming days as you face them with more and more resilience.
It is a striking synchronicity that this turning point in your life, this advancement into new pursuits, is mirrored by a worldwide moment of truth, a moment that asks for self-reflection and accountability from each of us, a moment that sparks important conversations we’ve been avoiding, never before seen collaboration, and opportunities for people to innovate in ways that set aside ego in order to protect people and the planet.
We know social distancing has been hard, but you are not in this alone. We believe in you and more importantly, we stand in awe watching you step into the confidence of who you are and will become. As we lift our communities out of dark days, it will take a whole lot of BOTH-AND thinking, and balancing the tension between showing compassion and making tough decisions about your future.
Standing in this intersection, I invite you to choose trust over fear AND love the parts of yourself that are still afraid anyway. I invite you to recognize your power as a blend of both your grit AND your vulnerability. You can be both agile in adapting to changes AND uncompromising in your integrity. You can ground yourself by building a strong inner foundation AND rise above by taking risks and trying new things. You can honor the lessons and experiences of the past AND unlearn some patterns to rebuild better ones for tomorrow. You can write your own story AND choose how you want to contribute to the larger human narrative.
Don’t let the significance of this situation pass you by. This hasn’t been easy and has come with a great cost. You, the Class of 2020, have sacrificed a once in a lifetime event, and replaced the usual pomp of the senior year with social distancing and self-quarantining. Few graduating classes have ever been asked to give up such a sacred rite of passage into adulthood. These decisions were made for you and on behalf of others, and cannot be reversed. But even in the disappointment and disarray, you recognized the lives lost and the importance of your willingness to embrace this sacrifice, to see with 20/20 vision. What you’ve foregone has contributed to the wellness of others and has revealed the goodness of your character. And we need more of it.
As our 20/20 vision gets clearer, we recognize that we have a choice in how we allow this crisis to mold us.
As Octavia Butler wrote, “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you.”
All life is interconnected, and we inherit what previous generations have built for us, and shape them into our legacy for generations that follow. This moment will surely leave an impression on how you see the world. How will you use your unique 20/20 Vision to shape a brighter future? Will you walk in compassion, and extend dignity and respect to yourself and others? Can you seek first to understand before expecting to be understood?
It might have seemed easier to believe things were either one way or another, just black or white. But, by embracing the grey- the mystery and the unknown- you can tap into your creativity to discover new ideas. With a BOTH-AND view, you can validate the heartbreak and disruption of this pandemic, AND open your mind to the never-before-available opportunities that are generated in such trying times. You can remember how fragile human life is, AND affirm how mighty we can be when we are unified in thought and action. You can find your own footing and sense of balance, AND help meet the needs of the vulnerable, the underserved, and at-risk.
You do not need all the answers today. You will not learn them all tomorrow. Step boldly into your future anyway, knowing you were made for such a time as this. To the class of 2020, infinite congratulations on your graduation, and one simple question: What do you want to see in 20/20?