I finished my last class of undergrad on May 11 over a video call. Most students had their camera and mic turned off with the exception of the professor, who duly spoke into the void, trying to conclude the class that was so eagerly introduced in January. The class was Young Adult Literature, and a lot of the books that we read were fictional dystopian stories where the young, precocious kid was the hero and the world that they lived in was governed by tyrannical powers.
These were, of course, fictional worlds.
Worlds where some sort of disaster or war occurs, inciting panic on a global scale, causing the government to take advantage of the situation and abuse their power in the name of “public safety”.
These are just hypothetical dystopian stories where the young hero is essentially tasked with the duty of saving the world. It is that young person’s responsibility to undo the wrong that has been committed and lead the next burgeoning generation into a new frontier.
When I started my college career, I never imagined ending it in my underwear and unwashed, coffee-stained t-shirt sitting in my apartment, conveniently located at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic and a soon to be public protest arena. I guess it’s kinda poetic.
Zero people asked me to write a graduation speech because I’m not important enough, but had I been asked, I probably would’ve said something along the lines of this. In typical commencement speech fashion, I would hit upon the following cliche points…
We are the future. We have the power to incite change. Go forth, my brethren. We have grown so much in the past four years. Yadda, yadda. The memories that we have made will shape who we will become. *Insert more incoherence about the real world* We are united as one class. *Insert some corny joke* Welcome to the real world. Godspeed.
That’s all a given, and now that I have quickly brushed over the cliché, this is what I really have to say to the class of 2020 (and everyone else).
We are free. Unlike any graduating class before us, we are the only class in history to be completely and utterly free. We are complete individuals of our own control. We don’t belong to anything. For the first time ever, there is no societal pressure to find a job immediately after graduation. There is no pressure to move out. There is no pressure to find a partner and get married or have kids or buy a car or a house. There is no pressure to plan for the future because right now, there is no future to plan for.
For the first time in the history of our systematic society, the world is completely on pause.
Life is just about living.
We don’t have to build an empire. We can just exist. We can explore who we truly are outside of work, outside of school, social groups, parties, gatherings. We can discover new hobbies. Experiment with art and creativity. Escape through literature and film and dream of the world that we want.
We are free to love one another in a way we haven’t before. We are free to love life in a way we haven’t before. To appreciate the small things that were once taken for granted. Take a second to find the small joys and understand that it’s not always the pursuit that brings us happiness.
We are a group of individuals who will forever be united by this pandemic. We are the class that, despite the crisis, persevered. The “real” world didn’t wait until after graduation; the real world came for us, held us down, and scared the shit out of us, and at times when we thought we couldn’t, we did. We stood against everything in our way and we finished what we started, despite the literal end of the world.
The pandemic has humbled us. Nothing in this world is guaranteed, and there may or may not be a next time. Go out with your friends when you can. Visit your family now. Say I love you as if it were the last words to leave your lips. It’s time to reevaluate what it means to be alive. Life is so fragile. Lives mean everything. We are coming together by staying apart.
Thankfully, we’re not going to be in quarantine forever. Businesses will open one day, and at some point we’ll have to polish our resume and move on from this, but until then, we can decide what the world will look like because the power is in our hands.
We are the heroes of those dystopian novels. Fiction has fused with reality, and it will be us that leads the world into a new frontier. We have seen firsthand what humanity was before the pandemic, and we have seen it during, and we will decide what happens next. We’ve witnessed firsthand what structures and systems have failed us. We have witnessed how ugly the world can become in chaos. We have witnessed the insistent abuse of power taken by those above us. The refusal of undeniable natural rights and freedoms. The selfishness people can display. The complacency with injustice. The fear-mongering. But we have also witnessed our capacity to love one another. Despite social isolation, I don’t think the world has ever felt more united than now. This isn’t an isolated incident, this is something everyone is living through. Years from now, we’ll tell stories of what happened to us during the pandemic. How we handled life. How we found a way to move on and survive.
We can all relate to the isolation and the constant anxiety, not to mention the constant snacking. We are all going through the exact same growing pains, but I think that after this, when we can resume real life, when we can hug one another without fear, when we can kiss our grandparents, we’ll feel united in a way no generation has ever been.
When I say that the class of 2020 is the future, I mean it. I mean it in the least cliché way possible, because it is us who has seen the best and worst of one another, and it will be us who courageously leads society into the new frontier.
So for now, text your loved ones, send virtual kisses and hugs, enjoy your Zoom happy hours, your drive by celebrations. Find yourself through art. Discover new hobbies and talents.
Understand yourself. Enjoy this freedom where you belong to no one but yourself, because when we return, we will fight to live more than we ever have before.
Congratulations, class of 2020. We are the next greatest generation.