My niece and nephew are graduating from college this spring. There will be no mortarboard hats tossed in the air, no squeaky bands tooting Pomp and Circumstance, and no bouncing beach balls volleying between restless graduates. In June my niece and nephew will receive a big envelope in the mail with their diploma that they can frame and nail to a wall.
There is something to be said about having a bookend to a four-year experience. You need some kind of exclamation point at the end of projects, tests, studying, bad roommates, unrequited love and campus union chicken patties that clinched your Freshman 15. You want a photo of you dressed in cap and gown, standing by the proud and broke parents, the corsages and boutonnières hanging by a pin.
It’s not every day that a pandemic derails a milestone. But while hundreds of people post on Facebook their senior high school and college photos in solidarity to all those 2020 graduates, perhaps a little advice should be sprinkled to these disappointed seniors. Because who doesn’t want a little unsolicited advice from an older person, especially when prom and senior week are canceled?
My advice to the Class of 2020 is to seek counsel from members of Generation X (Born between 1965 and 1979). Our entire life has been one disappointment after the next and we know how to navigate the “disses” life throws at you and piece together a silver lining. It’s like being a middle child, and in my case, I am a middle child plus a GenExer, a double hex to ensure I will always be relegated to the back of the station wagon facing oncoming traffic.
Let’s face it, Generation X is the smallest generation, the slackers, the mosh-pit, flannel-wearing cynics, the former latchkey kids, lost kid on the milk carton, Bad News Bears; the generation that witnessed the Challenger space shuttle blow up on live TV during 5th period English. On the Nightly News, scud missiles lit up the Iraq skies like the fourth of July. The rise of the AIDS pandemic made sex scary and we graduated college at the height of a recession, standing in lines at job fairs only to be asked how many words a minute we could type. We watched cops beat up Rodney King and were riveted to CNN while a football Hall-of-Famer fled in a white Bronco. We were angry, grumpy, ignored and rarely at the table. We are sandwiched between two giant generations, the Baby Boomers who have managed to gobble up credit for the sixties counterculture, feminism, the end of disco, Yuppies, personal computing and then of course birthing and rearing the Millennials!
So what can you do Class of 2020? For Generation X, we put up and shut up. You won’t see us protesting or picketing. We just deal. You look for the workarounds, you ignore the annoying, you hustle, try and try again, you cooperate because that‘s usually your only choice, and deep, deep inside our two sizes too small Grinch hearts is a little glimmer of hope. Maybe someday I will win the HGTV Dream Home and its $2 Million prize. Maybe I will reach that pinnacle career goal and dream salary. Maybe that book will get published? We are the Little Engine That Could, “I think I can, I think I can” still chugging up the hill waiting for the ride down, “I thought I could, I thought I could!”
My Generation X advice to the Class of 2020 is this – the COVID-19 that crashed your party is a life knock that will make you stronger, more tolerant, and appreciative when the next life milestone comes your way. Life doesn’t coddle you. Helicopter parents can’t airlift you away from pain or frustration or disappointment. It’s on you to remember to pat yourself on the back and cheer for yourself throughout your life. So put on your prom dress and tighten the bow tie and celebrate you and that you have the strength to withstand pandemics, wars, riots and any surprise that life brings to you.