A time that should be filled with congratulations and triumph or a job well done, while also looking forward to the future with anticipation, now seems to be filled with anxiety and is dictated by the unknown. As our graduates prepare to transition into the next phase of their lives, the usual excitement has been replaced with sadness, frustration, and anxiety for all they missed over the last two months during this global pandemic. Many are consumed with fear about taking the next step on their journey during the resulting uncertainty. A healthy dose of empathy and perhaps some tough love is required to fuel and help them continue moving forward and to believe that this is just a speed bump on the road to something much much greater.
It was approximately 22 years ago that I lay in bed, blind, hearing impaired, and helpless. 22 years ago, that I felt that same unrest, uncertainty, and overwhelming fear as to what the future held. Crying myself to sleep night after night, with tears of frustration and even anger for the unsettling/ unfair reality in which I had found myself. Anger for the weak, blind, and helpless little boy lying in my bed.
Thinking back to these incredibly tough and painful days, I can remember the support and tough but compassionate love given to me by family and friends. I am here to tell you that these incredible people who supported me through those challenging days are a major reason I am here to write this blog. I want to share a quote from a friend and mentor, John O’Leary’s dad to him, which truly sums up my circumstances during that time. John had been severely burned at age 9 over nearly 100% of his body and his recovery was a journey that took several years.
“John, listen, this terrible thing has happened. You can spend the rest of your life complaining about how unfair it is that you were forced to miss out on so many things. You can feel trapped by all you must deal with and all you must still endure. And no one will ever criticize you for it. You’ve earned the right. Or, John, you can use this terrible, difficult experience to grow in character and compassion, to be reminded always of what actually matters, to leverage these experiences to propel you forward in your life, and to even show others what remains possible in their lives. The life ahead of you can still be a gift… The choice is completely up to you.”
These words from John’s dad to him during a very tough time in John’s life mirror the support and “tough love” that I was given during the long endless days after my illness as well. The encouragement and counsel to help me to keep my head up and believe in the future was critical to my mental and emotional state.
So, to the Class of 2020 and others who may benefit from some “tough love” it is indeed terribly sad and difficult that this has happened. A semester packed with activities and celebrations with friends and family has been stolen. You must approach the next chapter amid a global pandemic and into one the most precarious job markets in history. And if you want to spend the rest of your summer and life complaining about it no one will criticize you for it. You have the right. On the other hand, you can use this terrible, difficult experience to grow in character and compassion, to be reminded always of what actually matters, to leverage these experiences to propel you forward in your life, and to even show others what remains possible in their lives. The life ahead of you remains and will always be a gift. When you truly understand this, only the best is yet to come!