Class of 2020 -- Community in the Face of Challenges

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

My Facebook memory this morning was a beautiful picture from 2 years ago.  My daughter and her boyfriend, at the Columbia Riverwalk, in full prom regalia.  It’s a fridge-worthy pic on any day, but these days it is a bittersweet reminder of what our high school seniors have lost this spring due to the coronavirus.  And even that grieving--a natural response to losing important milestones like prom, the John’s Island service project, senior symposium on campus, and commencement at Trinity--is tinged with guilt at mourning the loss of special days when so many are faced with the loss of loved ones.  Despite all that-despite the fact that I don’t think I’d ever be accused of being an optimist--I think we are seeing the shaping of a unique generation of Americans, who will be poised at a young age to do amazing things in the world.

This is the generation who were born just after 9/11.  I remember sitting in a waiting room with Tom waiting for our ultrasound appointment, as reports of the World Trade Center attacks were being broadcast on the radio over the office sound system.  I wondered, What kind of world are we bringing this child into?

We all know the things that came next--the Great Recession; the growing Climate Crisis; school shooting after school shooting; tragedies both removed and too close to home; and now COVID-19.  Through it all, they went to school, played with friends, learned to read and ride bikes and swim.  And  what has sustained them--and us--and what I hope will continue to sustain them as they graduate and move forward into whatever the future brings--is our community.

Community is everything.  Our kids have had amazing opportunities: they have been lucky to be a part of the learning community at Heathwood Hall from a very young age; they have grown as musicians and children of God at Trinity Cathedral; they have roamed the sidewalks and parks of lovely Shandon Neighborhood.  When we as parents have been congratulated on any of our children’s endeavors, we have been very aware that those accomplishments are firmly rooted not only in our children’s own efforts, but in the support they have received from their community.  Parenting is so much about learning one’s own limitations, using that information to choose to grow, and about showing your children that nothing can be achieved without the help of others.

That last lesson is the one that will carry our children forward, and which I hope will allow them to see that even in an uncertain future, with community all kinds of challenges can be faced and overcome.  We parents who came after Sandy Hook are all too familiar with telling our children, in the face of terrifying information, to “look for the helpers”; to look for the many compassionate people surrounding and outnumbering the scary agents in the world.  We have tried to show them that all of us, in our small ways, can be the Helper, whatever that means in any particular situation.  Right now, being the Helper means staying at home when we want to be out; learning remotely when we want to be in classes learning face-to-face; donating funds to assistance groups instead of working in person at the Rural Mission; and cancelling or postponing events like prom and commencement until it is safe for everyone to celebrate.  It is a far better gift that we give our children now--this sense of community connection, of giving in the face of challenge, of knowing that together we can overcome--than any senior trip, ceremony, or party.  The gift of community connection is one that they can carry with them into any challenge the future may bring, no matter where they go or what they do.  As a parent, that is an amazingly reassuring thought.  I am grateful.