Last Friday was my eldest nephew’s last day of high school. Except that GG was at home, like all seniors across the United States.
This season was meant to herald a momentous milestone for these kids. Centering on grad and prom, with all the extras, toppings and red cherries that ramp up for months, then reach an apex towards the end of senior year, all of it came apart, COVID19-like, at the seams.
Even though GG’s been a champ, ostensibly taking it in stride, I can’t help but mull over what he missed – as well as the toll such a massive, countrywide cancellation has taken on all the peripheral businesses – so integral, essential, to this annual teenage spectacle: the florists, the dress shops, the tux rental joints, the limousine companies, the drivers, the food catering enterprises, the shoe stores, the spas, nail salons, hairdressers, barbers, and all the rest.
From a distance and my own vantage point, I sense that something with greater import has been lost; and this was the first ‘leap year’ for a critical rite of passage. All of it, up in smoke. The cap and gown experience. The public recognition when each graduating senior marches up to retrieve their long-awaited diploma, to the thunderous applause of gathered family and friends. The group photos, ad infinitum. The pomp. The circumstance. The goodbyes. The promises to stay in touch and meet up. The collective enthusiasm of lasts – the last day of walking out of high school as a student; the last time they remove stuff and stickers from their lockers; the last varsity basketball game; the last student meeting, science class, radio show, run around the oval, football practice, class picture, tailgate. The collective excitement, the highs of a horizon brimming with possibility, growth and adventure. Shared dreams and plans. Visions of what adulthood might be.
I don’t even know how parents and therapists are helping out these seniors. It’s all new territory, without precedent, research, data, no prior example to refer to. To lean on. These kids/young adults, are in a class by themselves. Seniors, sui generis.
My nephew. GG is tight-lipped, not sounding too ruffled. From a distance and through semi-regular screen time then, it’s hard to tell if underlying his composure is a layer of sorrow. Then again, he IS a teenager, so who can ever really know?
As the weeks and months have passed, I would hear, first, how the last months of his senior school year were in jeopardy, then cancelled. How classes eventually went online, but not much was being taught – or, I imagine, absorbed. Even though GG displayed adult-level maturity, learning to do laundry (should in-person college life ever pan out), helping out at home, working out in the garage, watching movies with his parents, chatting with friends online, and eventually finding a safely-distanced part-time job, still I wonder…
Maybe I’m making a big deal about it. Maybe GG, his peers and friends are like most high school students who respond to the cancellation of school with hurrahs, hallelujahs and long sleep-ins. My guess is that even they tired of endless school-less days, even if only for the protracted absence of social contact and a schedule.
And yet. Celebrations are on. Virtually. On the lawns. On the phones. On Zoom. In the air. Staff and students are banding together, their creative minds and forces activated for good. The homes and lawns in neighborhoods surrounding the high school, have become veritable backdrops for displays of gratitude, congratulations, high-fives, streamers, signs and balloons.
These grads, like the rest of us, are probably learning to step out of the once-was-normal, into this strange and unknown terrain, and conjure up a different kind of party.
Maztov GG. May your future shine even brighter, at the end of this tunnel…