To sum up the end of our senior year, one word comes to mind: anticlimactic. We didn’t know on March 12 that we were living through our last day of high school, ever. We didn’t take the time to look around, to say goodbye to friends, to teachers, and to the memories that reside in the Mason halls. It was just a normal day. Our last day of virtual classes a few weeks ago was, likewise, just a normal day (at least, the new normal): Helen, for one, rolled out of bed half an hour before classes started; stared at low-resolution images of her teachers talking, with almost none of her classmates bothering to chime in, if they were “in class” at all; then closed her laptop on her high school career and went to walk the dog. There was no finality. The thought was there that her last ever high school class had just finished, but the feeling definitely wasn’t. An anticlimactic end to an anticlimactic second semester.
Our last term at Mason should have been anything but anticlimactic. It should have been the culmination of the good parts of our last 12 years in the school system, and the goodbye to the bad parts. Even though so many of us normally love to complain how stressed school makes us or how much we dread certain classes, the reality is that Mason added a myriad of positives to our lives that we took for granted. Our school gave us a community; we couldn’t help but bond with one another as we pulled each other out of the way of falling ceiling tiles in the hallways, or threw baby powder on each other at football games. Mason also taught us to be ambitious and to go after our goals, whether those included the athletic titles, first places in robotics competitions, or accolades in the arts that our class brought home.
The struggle on our end has been figuring out how to come to terms with the loss of our senior year. It feels silly to be sad about losing experiences like a graduation or a soccer season when there are much more important, much more tragic, things happening in the world right now. But there’s still that inescapable feeling of loss — of realizing that you’ll never get to spend one last free period bantering with your computer science teacher, or looking around the sunny senior courtyard and edging away from the resident Mason geese.
But despite that feeling of loss, the reality is that the Class of 2020 is living through one of the most pivotal years in recent history. As the two of us were delivering our respective valedictory speeches a couple weeks ago, our messages were still centered on the Covid pandemic. The recent events regarding George Floyd’s death and police brutality, however, show how quickly global challenges can develop and how important it is to broaden our own perspectives. This year and past few weeks have taught us to actively pursue a broader, more inclusive understanding of the world.
The immense changes that our nation and our world are undergoing inspired Kate to write, in her speech, about the Class of 2020’s unique role: Pushing ourselves to reconsider what we know to be true of the world and dedicating ourselves to improving it once the dust of both pandemics settles. Though her speech was written prior the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, its message is still applicable. She invites the Class of 2020 to become “Helpers,” a term coined by Mr. Rogers for individuals who invoke positive change in times of crisis and tragedy. Kate insists that “[The Class of 2020] must find meaning and purpose in our twisted version of events by helping others and putting democracy into action.”
Mason taught us to look at the world around us and recognize its problems, while teaching us the value of striving to be a “helper.” These lessons apply now more than ever, and the events occurring around us offer a unique opportunity to graduate from classroom learning about changemaking, to real-world experiential learning. Our class is learning, amidst the chaos, to be resilient through the negatives, and to take initiative and replace them with positives.
Kate reaches the core of her speech in saying “Whether it be issues of climate change, disenfranchisement of people of color, [or] predatory insurance and health care industry practices, … we all need to find a cause that sparks an epiphany and makes us think ‘Huh, I can do something about that.’” In the face of the losses we have experienced in the Little City, and the tragedies that those around the world have lived through, we must look forward and, as Kate said, “Push [ourselves] to consider the lives of others outside your community, race, sexuality, culture, religion, and gender identity,” and initiate the change that the times demand.