Two years ago I sat watching TV when my son walked downstairs. He had just finished his four years of college and his diploma arrived.
“I’m not sure what this means,” he said.
He wasn’t going to wear a cap and gown and be on his beautiful college campus doing the usual graduation ritual. He was instead at home with his parents, several hundred miles from his classmates, absorbing the blow that his class of 2020 would not have an on-campus graduation.
The same raw deal was sinking in for the thousands of other colleges across the country. The global pandemic had shut the world down. Colleges closed. Life turned off.
A few days later his college had an online graduation. The president sat on a bench near the football field – all by herself — and talked about how much she missed the students.
It was odd and eerie. In less than an hour, the ceremony was over. So flattening.
I felt bad for my son along with all the other 2020 graduates who didn’t get to celebrate their academic accomplishments by enjoying an outdoor day in May on the gorgeous campus grass.
I also felt bad for myself. His college football team had won the championship in the Fall of his senior year and all the parents we had become friends with left after the post-championship celebration in November 2019 saying we would see each other at the graduation. Little did we know that only a few months later a global pandemic would extinguish those exciting plans.
My son, and so many of his classmates, then had to accept their situation as we all did, that life would be different for some unknown period until the crisis subsided.
From his upstairs bedroom, he started looking for jobs. What else was there to do? There was no place to go.
I remember telling him that life was not always going to be so closed and anti-social, that there would be many more normal and better times in his life. And I told him billions of people around the world were struggling – and suffering — with life during the pandemic and that he was not alone and not the only one dealing with a sad situation.
So he sat at his computer, found a job, and started working without knowing how long the peculiar lifestyle would go on. Day after day, he worked. For months and months. I was struck and a bit amazed at how disciplined he was.
After several months he made arrangements to move out of the house and back to his hometown area of New York City where a bevy of his high school and college friends were reconvening.
He returned where he belonged and has been doing well ever since.
Even better, in a few weeks, he’s going to finally get the opportunity to slip into his graduation gown and set his cap on his head, and walk through the graduation ceremony with his friends on the green grass on his college’s gorgeous campus.
From Boston and Colorado and Los Angeles and New Jersey and dozens of other places, his classmates will be flocking back to enjoy and savor that moment they worked to deserve. Anyone who has graduated from college knows you have to spend a lot of time by yourself studying, wrestling with intellectual concepts, and taking tests, to earn the right to receive a diploma.
You have to endure countless hours of quiet time worrying about what the professors will ask on the exams – and never figuring that out — listening to lectures, organizing notes, and not being sure you understand the material.
On graduation weekend, there will be plenty of parties and catching up on what each of his classmates has been doing the past two years. So in that sense, it’s like a hybrid event, a reunion/graduation. How unique – a story to tell their kids as forever remembered and admired members of the Class of 2020.
The football parents will get together after having waited themselves for more than 700 days to reminisce about the undefeated season. I’m going to go with my friend Gary — one of the football Dads and one of the best human beings I’ve ever met — to the football stadium and stand there. We’ll reminisce about that team winning every game and how beautiful everything about that team was.
All season long he would fly in from the West Coast and me from the Southeast to watch our boys play college football – and win and win and win and win and win and win and win and win and win. Nine wins and no losses. Perfect.
It seems like that season happened about 10 years ago. The pandemic has had an unfamiliar effect on how I perceive time. There was life before the pandemic. Then it happened and seemed like it lasted for five years, maybe eight or nine. And then there’s been life since then. The pandemic disrupted the rhythm of life and my ability to sense how long ago things happened.
I remember telling my son during those tough times at home that life would get better. Life flows up and down, I said. Sometimes things are bad, then they’re good, then bad, then good. I only know this because I’ve lived a lot longer than he has.
We’re on one of those good swings now.
When I see him in his cap and gown on graduation day, I’m going to think about what happened these past two years and feel sad he didn’t get to graduate at the normal time. I’ve felt pain in my heart ever since I learned his college would not have a normal graduation in 2020.
He didn’t deserve to have to wait so long to celebrate his academic accomplishments. No graduates of the Class of 2020 did.
Life deals us bad cards sometimes. The toughest among us don’t complain, we just play those cards.
My son showed toughness. He played the cards dealt to him, and he played them well. With honor. With class.
And he waited two years to put on the gown – no one should have to do that.
He didn’t complain. He just accepted the situation and did the responsible thing. He worked hard.
Thinking back to those dark days when he wasn’t sure what receiving his diploma meant, we now have an answer. It means he studied hard and earned the grades to deserve receiving a college undergraduate degree. And he’s going to graduate on campus in his cap and gown with his classmates.
It means he accepted a bad situation and made the best of it. It means he can always know now that when life gets tough, it will get better because it always does. And he will work hard and accept the situation and keep striving and living. And that will be comforting for him. It warms my heart when he is comforted.
I am so proud of him for this and so many other reasons. I am so proud of all his classmates. And I am so glad I get to see Gary soon and all the other football parents.
It’s been a long 700 days.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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