Everyone looks forward to those moments in our lives that mark something significant. We honour our birthday with parties, greetings, birthday cake and gifts. We celebrate marriages with a wedding that includes special clothes and the symbols of rings and vows. And we celebrate the maturing of our youth and their progress with ceremonies of graduation from one stage to the next: kindergarten to Grade 1; Grade 8 to high school; high school to college or university or work; college or university into a vocation. Special clothes; graduation trips; a graduation ceremony with awards and certificates; family, friends and community to share in it; and a party are all part of the experiences of these transitions.
Now most of these experiences have been cancelled for 2020 due to COVID-19. For those who do not like pomp and circumstance there may be a sense of relief, while for others there is a deep disappointment in not sharing this moment with friends and family in a public way. Yet human creativity has found new ways to mark and honour these moments. I see signs on many lawns saying “Graduate 2020!”, honouring a family member. Some schools have made enormous efforts to still hold socially distanced, small-group ceremonies for each graduand. Others have held online ceremonies such as one I shared in for Montreal Diocesan College, complete with video clips of degrees being hand delivered in the crook of Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson’s crozier! I think also of the youth leaders in the diocese of New Westminster who delivered special care bags, complete with mini graduate caps. We can and do find ways to say, “Congratulations!” We recognize the hard work of years of schooling and, in some cases, the sacrifices to be able to complete a degree, diploma or certificate.
Of course, graduating means leaving behind the familiar—a school, classmates, a study routine—for the new. It could mean a new school, opportunities to make new friends, different expectations—or maybe freedom from studies or the beginnings of a career. It can be exciting, challenging, and at times, scary.
When I finished university, I was heading to another country to begin a teaching career in another culture, with people I had never met before. I was excited, nervous and a bit scared! A good friend gave me a locket inside of which was a small piece of paper and one verse of scripture. The locket has long since disappeared but that quotation of scripture has stayed with me for my entire life: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) Moses gave those words to Joshua as the Israelites were about to enter the promised land, encouraging him to be “strong and bold” in the face of his enemies: “Have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) That verse has stayed with me, reminding me that I was never alone in the challenges or disappointments, fears or joys that were ahead.
You, the graduates of 2020, have already been tested for resiliency and your ability to face radical change, due to COVID-19. You have adapted to online learning, social distancing and the pain of missing friends. You will be a gift to the world ahead of you—as you continue in school or head into the world to reshape it—for you already know the challenge of uncertainty. And you know you have strength to meet it.
Know that our prayers go with you! Congratulations as you step into the future!! Be strong and bold. Do not fear, for God will never leave you or forsake you!