A quick note to high school seniors across the country:
This sucks. Let’s start with that unarguable statement.
The coronavirus pandemic has shattered any reasonable vision of your senior year.
The decision to close schools through the rest of the academic year, sadly, makes sense.
That doesn’t make the situation suck any less. You have every right to feel disappointed, angry, sad—all those things. You need to feel those emotions, without guilt or hesitation. A major milestone in your life has been changed irrevocably. That’s supposed to hurt.
So let it hurt. And then, when you’re ready, consider what lies ahead.
When you’re focused on your senior prom, on high school graduation, on your final game as a high school athlete, it’s like driving up a steep hill. Those final high school moments exist at the top of the hill. They’re all you can focus on because they’re all you can see ahead.
But once you get to the top, once you get through those moments, sweet as they may be, you gain a little perspective. You can see the other side of the hill, and where the road is going. You can glimpse other hills to come.
There’s moving out of your home. Your first night away from your family—really away. Your first day of college or your first day at a full-time job.
Renting your first apartment. Finding your first true love. Buying a car on your own.
Where you are, still on that upward slope toward high school’s end, these are abstractions. But for all the hopes and daydreams you might have devoted to an unrealized vision of prom or graduation, there will be hopes and daydreams in equal measure leading up to these other moments.
And these moments that are to come will be, in their own right, spectacular.
If you’re going to college, you’ll form friendships you can’t yet imagine. You’ll spend late nights studying, sucking down caffeine and bonding over 4 a.m. fits of stress-induced laughter. You’ll do things you shouldn’t and remember them forever. You’ll dance, perhaps horribly, and find moments of unfettered joy around people you can’t imagine ever being without.
You’ll find a job and pull into the parking lot on your first day with your stomach fluttering and every worst-case scenario swirling through your mind. Then you’ll make it indoors and find, after a day or a week, that it’s not so bad. And you’ll meet new people who will begin weaving their way into the narrative of your life. And you’ll get a raise, or find another job that suits you better. And you’ll see more and more of the hills that lie ahead.
You’ll meet someone who makes you freeze up. Someone who makes it hard for you to complete sentences. You’ll share a painfully awkward meal. The emotions will consume you and nothing will make sense and then you’ll realize you’re in love. Real love.
You may lose that—because not everything goes just right. You can see the hills, but you won’t notice the potholes. There are plenty. They’ll rock you. But you keep going. Up, up, up, until you reach the top.
This pandemic is a pothole. A big one.
It has thrown you all off course, but the road’s still there, and trust me, parts of it are plenty smooth.
And hills await you.
When you finally find that love that sticks, you might get married. And you’ll get to the top of that hill and feel indescribable joy as you walk down an aisle, surrounded by those you met on the hills behind.
And off you’ll go. You might travel, watch the sun set over a place you’d only dreamed of seeing. You might have a child, and feel love surge through your body like electricity, transforming you into that child’s superhero.
First steps. New jobs. New friends.
New hills ahead.
I can’t fix your senior year. Your parents and the people who love you can’t absorb your disappointment, though if they could, they surely would.
But I, and your parents and the people who love you, can promise moments ahead that will blow your minds. Good and bad. Ecstatic and humbling. Moments that will make this one—this understandably frustrating moment in time—a fading image in the rearview mirror.
Get over this hill. Let it suck. Let it pass.
Then get a look ahead. That’s life stretching out there.
Fasten your seat belt and go.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.