The first jolt of the coronavirus pandemic hit young people just as the country was learning the scope of the danger. Schools were closed. Malls were closed. Extracurricular activities were canceled. And kids were forced to distance from their friends. Students spending the semester abroad were brought back home, and herded into quarantine — mostly with the family they just left. High school seniors, who looked forward to graduation, proms and other celebrations, face an anticlimax of “distance ceremonies.”
So, too, with college seniors. Their final semester of idyllic college life andtheir send-off into the real world has been short circuited. No celebratory pomp or star-studded graduation ceremony is planned, and their job prospects are dim. There are myriad rites of passage scheduled into our lives. We have become accustomed to them. We anticipate them. We look forward to them. And now, for many of us, they are gone.
The toppling of life-cycle activities is different from the kind of “disruption” we refer to in connection with the blinding speed of technological change. Technology changes may “disrupt” our lives, but we consider those disruptions to be positive. The coronavirus disruption is different. It interferes with our lives, and has taken much of the joy out of many life-cycle celebrations.
In pointing this out, we don’t ignore or minimize the tragic loss of life that COVID-19 had brought — 88,588 Americans dead as of press time — or the financial ruin and deprivation it has brought to tens of millions of Americans. That bitter reality puts much of our life-cycle celebration lamentations into perspective. Not just because good health and financial stability are more important, but also because the celebratory graduations, proms, theme parties and destination weddings are just conventions — and often excessive ones — that we have adopted over time. They may be enjoyable, but they aren’t essential.
A high school senior graduates regardless of whether she walks across the stage when her name is called. A boy automatically becomes a bar mitzvah when he turns 13. A marriage is infinitely more important than the lavish wedding party.
All of that said, we want to take a moment to recognize the very real and significant accomplishments in each of the milestones and life achievements throughout our community — even if we cannot celebrate them now as we have in the past.
And we applaud the creative ways many in our community have developed to bring meaning and emotion to the recognition of life events we have listed. Thus, even though the coronavirus may have stolen parts of our lives from us, it has seeded an impressive creativity and resilience that we are proud to see.
And who knows? Maybe some of what we’re doing now will actually refine our focus and bring us to new, more meaningful celebrations — focused less on the pomp, and much more on the circumstance.