When I look back at the past year, my mind triggers all the things I’d like to forget. Attempting to sum up 2020, I find myself at a loss for words. It’s the year the unthinkable became the believable and in some ways, our new norm. It’s the year nothing happened for us as the entire world exploded.
We’ve suffered vast amounts of loss and just when it felt as if the constraints of the pandemic would break us, a derecho blew through and destroyed any chance for farmers to rebound from the historic floods and disastrous harvest season of the previous year.
Families face loss of income, homelessness and hardship in ways my generation has never experienced before, and we the community, drawn together in a time of need but forced apart by a widespread virus moonlighting as a deadly disease.
There is, however, a memory from this year that I often think back to. When life made sense and I could see hope just over the horizon. It’s a memory that’s carried me through the good times and the bad, a moment that I remind myself of on the days when I don’t want to get out of bed and do it anymore.
Co-Salutatorian Ian Wilde was the first to address his class during the 8th grade graduation ceremony at Lutheran Interparish School in Williamsburg on June 4th. His speech opened revered, noting all the things COVID-19 took from them in their last year together, the things they felt they spent their elementary days working towards.
Yet, he also emphasized what it could never take from them- their memories, the lifelong bonds they’ve created and their salvation in Jesus Christ.
At first, the ceremony itself felt odd and unusual. After being postponed for several weeks because of statewide gathering restrictions, they brought us together in a way that still kept us apart. They spaced clusters of families and their familiar faces from one another. Graduates picked up their certificates off a table, and they left hands unshaken.
From the podium, Ian radiated with nervousness and confidence the way only a teenager could as he shifted his attention toward his classmates. “Tonight we will not focus on what we’ve lost but instead celebrate what we’ve been given,” he said.
I stood on the exit ramp in the back of the gymnasium unnoticed, gleaming with pride and overflowing with gratitude. Although I cover many traditional graduation ceremonies each year, it’s only now as I write this that I realize that the non-traditional made it that much more special and that I received the gift of this intimate moment where I took part in celebrating the success of students I’ve been covering throughout their academic careers.
As one year ends and another begins, our current situation will collectively remain the same, but as individuals, we will still experience moments of hope, joy and glory. Those moments will look different for each of us, but the feelings attached will be the same and with that, we’ll carry on. Human connection may be what fuels Coronavirus, but without it, there will never be a cure.
I have no idea what 2021 has in store for us. I spent most of 2020 thinking it couldn’t get any worse, even as it continued to do so. What I know is that Ian’s words will guide me like a compass leading me home. Whatever happens, his words are a solid reminder for all of us: we will get through it together, even while we’re forced apart.