Our only child, who was conceived during a trip to the beach three weeks after 9/11, won’t have a high school graduation because of a global pandemic. It sounds like the first line of a dystopian novel.
Yet that doesn’t change the fact that high school graduation, a seemingly ordinary rite of passage, has been taken away from us, along with all the other perks associated with being a high school senior.
My daughter spent the last two years working behind the scenes on her school’s musicals and now she won’t get to help the curtain go up one last time: helping to build the set for her final high school musical, being part of the tech crew during the performance. She’ll also miss the recognition seniors get at their final high school musical: being given the coveted “golden” pineapple that’s presented to all senior members of the performance-night tech crew.
She and her fellow students will miss participating in “senior experience,” a three-week program at Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington that allows students to test out a career instead of going to classes in May.
And then there is the actual graduation ceremony. Like many seniors across the region and the country, she is sad to miss an opportunity to celebrate one last time with friends she has known throughout high school, and many since her first year of middle school.
Donning the cap and gown and walking across the stage marks the end of an era—and signifies sending her off into adulthood. That transition will still happen. I’m still preparing to send my daughter off into the world, into her next chapter—but without the traditional graduation ceremony and celebration. This year’s graduation will be celebrated virtually with each student sending the school a photo of themselves wearing a cap and gown. There are tentative plans for a smaller, in-person ceremony in August at the school’s stadium.
The events we had planned as a family to celebrate this milestone are also canceled, including a trip to Tokyo over spring break and a trip to Italy following her graduation. Both were meant as a reward to her—and for us—for all her hard work over the last 12 years.
Our planned trips to Tokyo and Italy were supposed to be more than just a rewarding vacation, they were also intended as a way for my husband and I to spend as much time with her as possible before she leaves for college across the country in Colorado in the fall.
We’re not globe-trotting together as planned, but we do now have endless, unplanned hours together each day.
My husband and I are still working full-time and our daughter is focused on schoolwork and studying for her AP exams, but we are spending more time together than usual in the evenings. Before the stay-at-home orders, she would spend all day in school, followed by after-school activities most afternoons and then homework, leaving very little time for us to spend together.
Now we eat dinner together most nights and afterwards spend time watching Netflix. She watches Last Week Tonight with John Oliver with us and we watch The Masked Singer and LEGO Masters with her—two shows we never would have made the time to watch with her if we were living our normal, hectic, pre-pandemic lives.
We also find ourselves laughing together—and sometimes good-naturedly at each other—more, mostly because we are together so much now that we notice each other’s tics and foibles. We spend more time in the kitchen together, making fresh pasta, baking pound cake, coffee cake, maple scones and molasses cookies—something we would normally only do during the winter break.
No one knows if colleges will welcome freshman in the fall. For all we know, we might have more endless hours together.
Despite that uncertainty, my daughter and I sweat over the details of her college housing application—which dorm to choose, does she want a single or double room, should she sign up for the 19-meal-a-week food plan?
If I allow myself to think beyond the next 30 minutes of my life, to allow my mind to imagine what life might be like next week, a month from now, two months from now when we’re supposed to drop my daughter off at her college dorm, I’m overcome with sadness that she might miss out on the essential rite of passage of going away to college at least for her freshman year.
Instead I will focus on what we can control.
In a different version of 2020, my husband and I would be beaming with pride during our daughter’s graduation on June 18, at DAR Constitution Hall. My parents would be there, along with my husband’s mother and my daughter’s two favorite cousins.
Instead, she will sleep in and we will make her favorite breakfast—lemon pancakes and bacon. After the virtual graduation, we will spend a few hours playing her two favorite board games, Catan and Carcassonne, and grill her favorite dinner, filet mignon. The day won’t have the same sense of pomp and circumstance, but I know, years from now, we’ll still have great memories from her graduation day.