No one will forget 2020, and those graduating this year have the unique badge of having this year attached to their unofficial titles as members of the Class of 2020.
In some ways, I share the badge. I took on a new leadership role as presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature in the beginning of 2020. Like many, I brought in the New Year with big plans and momentous visions of what I hoped to accomplish. “2020” has that special ring to it, the kind that inspires you to want to achieve more, do more, and be more.
The year thus far has been, in a word, unimaginable — one marked by a collective sacrifice to protect each other. Students have shouldered part of that sacrifice by switching to remote learning, trading cafeteria lunches with friends for kitchen lunches with family, and giving up after-school activities. Our graduates have given up even more, from their last varsity season and proms, to the ceremonies and parties they envisioned to mark the occasion.
In this week’s column, I speak directly to our graduates.
Dear Graduates: Congratulations on your wonderful achievements. What you have accomplished through your hard work, sacrifice and commitment is wonderful, and you should be very proud.
The public health crisis we find ourselves in has undoubtedly affected how you planned to celebrate this important milestone. In so many ways, 2020 has been full of unexpected challenges and sacrifices. The result is that you are entering a world that is not the one we planned for, but that does not change the fact that your future is still full of promise and potential.
Think of the education beyond the book-learning you have received in the last few months. The obvious one is how to study remotely and be a self-starter. Perhaps less obvious is what you have learned about government and its role in crisis response, or about how connected the world is. Your mind has been opened up in ways generations before you never experienced, and this is not the first time it has happened.
Most of you were raised in the age of 9/11 and a recession. These were difficult years, when the world changed in major ways. Growing up during these times made you resourceful and adaptable. The world has now changed again, and you will have to channel that resiliency as you move forward.
You are also part of a group that never stops learning. Your generation is accustomed to rapid technological development – the first iPhone came out when you were just children! – and as a result, you pick up scientific advances with ease. This natural tendency to be unafraid of exploring new ways of doing things is going to be key as you enter the changing educational and professional landscape.
There is no question that 2020 has been a year of unprecedented change and heartbreaking loss. However, it has also been a year of astonishing bravery, unparalleled teamwork, displays of spirit and cooperation, and unbreakable resolve. Let the latter category be the qualities that define you as a member of the Class of 2020. Your generation is associated with perseverance, and you will continue to rise to whatever challenges the future may hold.
As graduates, you have the chance to make real, tangible change in this world. When we look around at society today, we see the need for compassionate leaders and innovative thinkers. We also see the need for integrity, tolerance and acceptance. The world is on the verge of pivotal systemic change, and you have the opportunity to craft that change and make the world what you want it to be.
Be brave. Be bold. Be true. Remember: Life is full of twists and turns, but when you are true to yourself, everything falls into place.
While it seems like life has been on pause, your dreams do not have to be. You have all the skills you need to be successful, wherever your path leads you. The time has come to step out into the world and make your mark. Congratulations!